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Urinary incontinence

Overview of urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control. Urinary incontinence ranges from occasional urine leakage to the complete inability to control urination. Women are twice as likely as men to experience this condition.

If you have bladder problems such as frequent urination, urine leakage, or an overactive bladder, our caring team of doctors at Dignity Health can treat you. Find a Doctor and make an appointment near you today.


Common signs and symptoms of urinary incontinence include:

  • Leaking urine when coughing, sneezing, laughing, or exercising
  • Feeling sudden, uncontrollable urges to urinate
  • Frequent urination
  • Waking up many times at night to urinate
  • Urinating during sleep

Your doctor will listen to you describe your symptoms, examine you, and diagnose you.


You and your doctor may discuss possible causes of bladder incontinence, including:

  • Pregnancy and childbirth: During pregnancy, the uterus presses down on the bladder and may cause incontinence. Giving birth vaginally can also stretch and weaken the muscles that support bladder control.
  • Menopause: As estrogen levels decrease during menopause, vaginal tissue becomes thinner. Experts believe this also happens to the tissues of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs): UTIs can cause temporary incontinence.
  • Medications: Some medications, including diuretics (or water pills), can cause bladder incontinence.
  • Nerve damage: Any disease or injury that affects the nerves controlling the bladder can cause incontinence.
  • Tumors anywhere in the urinary tract
  • Constipation: Constipation can lead to impacted stool, which places more pressure on your bladder.
  • Side effects of hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus).
  • Consumption of excessive diuretics: Caffeine (e.g., from coffee, tea, sodas, and energy drinks), vitamin C, and chocolate can all stimulate urine production, causing or worsening symptoms of urinary incontinence.


There are a few different types of incontinence, each of which has different triggers and treatments.

Types of urinary incontinence include:

  • Stress-induced: This kind of incontinence is characterized by the sudden loss of bladder control when you sneeze, laugh, lift heavy objects, cough, or engage in intense exercise.
  • Overflow: If your bladder doesn’t empty completely or you have issues regulating the signals between your bladder and your brain telling you when you need to urinate, you may experience constant “leaking” or “dripping” urine.
  • Urge: This type of incontinence is characterized by sudden, severe urges to urinate, followed by involuntary urination. Urge incontinence is also more common at night and may lead to getting up multiple times throughout the night to urinate.
  • Functional: Functional incontinence is due to an inability to make it to the restroom in time. This is not caused by a condition related to your urinary tract, but another condition such as arthritis.
  • Mixed: Mixed incontinence occurs when one or more of the other types are combined.

Risk factors

Urinary tract disorders like urinary incontinence have a variety of risk factors, which vary depending on the specific condition. Common risk factors include:

  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop stress urinary incontinence due to the structure of the urinary tract and reproductive organs.
  • Age: Menopause and aging can both change the strength of your muscles and reduce the capacity of your bladder, increasing the likelihood of incontinence.
  • Body weight: Being overweight increases pressure on the bladder.
  • Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of developing many medical conditions, including urinary incontinence.


You may not be able to prevent some types of urinary incontinence, since the condition is often caused by something else, such as pregnancy. Instead, you can reduce your risk of urinary incontinence by avoiding urinary tract infections, learning and avoiding common triggers for incontinence, and:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Completing Kegels and other exercises to strengthen your bladder muscles and pelvic floor
  • Avoiding foods and drinks that trigger urinary incontinence, such as caffeinated beverages, chocolate, spicy foods, and acidic food
  • Quitting smoking or not smoking
  • Attending regular appointments with your doctor
  • Seeking treatment for urinary tract infections, constipation, and other conditions that can trigger incontinence

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.