The Basic Types of Urinary Incontinence

1. Stress Urinary Incontinence

Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) occurs because of weak pelvic floor muscles and/or a deficient urethral sphincter, causing the bladder to leak during exercise, coughing, sneezing, laughing, or any body movement which puts pressure on the bladder. A problem that affects both men and women, SUI may follow childbirth or menopause in women and prostate cancer treatment, such as radical prostatectomy, in men. To read about preparing the pelvic floor for childbirth, click here.

2. Urgency Urinary Incontinence and Overactive Bladder

Urgency urinary incontinence and overactive bladder is the urgent need to pass urine and the inability to get to a toilet in time. This occurs when nerve passages along the pathway from the bladder to the brain are damaged, causing a sudden bladder contraction that cannot be consciously inhibited. Stroke, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS) can all cause urge incontinence. Urge Incontinence is a major symptom of overactive bladder (OAB). Read more about overactive bladder treatment. Many studies over the years have supported the success of bladder retraining programs for both women and men experiencing symptoms of urge incontinence and urgency associated with overactive bladder (OAB).

3. Mixed Incontinence

Mixed incontinence is very common and occurs when symptoms of both stress and urgency types of incontinence are present. Symptoms of one type of incontinence may be more severe than the other. Treatment may be a combination of the treatments listed for either urgency or stress incontinence and will depend on which symptoms are more bothersome to the patient.

4. Chronic Retention of Urine

This type of incontinence refers to leakage that occurs when the quantity of urine produced exceeds the bladder's holding capacity. It can result from diabetes, pelvic trauma, extensive pelvic surgery, pelvic organ prolapse in women, enlarged prostate in men, injuries to the spinal cord, shingles, MS, Parkinson's Disease, or polio. If you would like additional information about the conditions that may cause chronic retention of urine, please review our detailed sections on prolapse, enlarged prostate, and neurological disorders.

5. Fecal Incontinence

Fecal incontinence is the inability to control the passage or loss of gas, liquid and/or solid stool. This condition can vary from being partial, in which a person loses only a small amount of liquid waste, to complete, in which the entire solid bowel movement cannot be controlled.

Other Considerations

  • Frequent urination at night is a common condition known as nocturia, and nocturnal enuresis is characterized by losing urine at night (bedwetting).
  • Incontinence resulting from surgery is a transient condition that follows such operations as hysterectomies, cesarean sections, prostatectomies, lower intestinal surgery, or rectal surgery. This temporary leakage is not considered a diagnostic category. On the other hand, if a bladder control problem persists, it should be diagnosed as one of the types of incontinence listed above.
  • Incontinence can also occur due to other reversible factors, often outside of the urinary tract, such as restricted mobility. Mobility aids can help remove barriers to self-toileting on a timely basis. Other factors such as arthritis, may interfere with managing zippers, buttons, and articles of clothing – or moving quickly enough to reach the toilet.