Stress incontinence is the loss of urine during sneezing, coughing, exercising, laughing or any similar activities. These activities cause an increase in abdominal pressure and the sphincter muscles cannot hold back the urine. This is an anatomic problem where the bladder may have too much motion during the activities described. Also, the problem may lie with the sphincter muscle itself in that it may be weak or damaged. The amount of urine that is lost varies from a few drops to a cup or two. As the condition gets worse, the amount of urine lost increases. Stress incontinence is frequently found in women, especially after childbirth. Men can also suffer from stress incontinence following prostatectomy.
Urge incontinence is characterized by the sudden sensation to urinate and the inability to control that urgency. Urge incontinence is common in the elderly, but can also affect younger people. The urgency may be present both day and night. This form of incontinence may be associated with medical conditions affecting the nervous system, such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis. The nervous system controls messages sent from the bladder to the brain via the spinal cord, including the signal that it is time to urinate. Bladder infections and prostate enlargement may also cause urgency and urge incontinence.
Some patients also have a combination of stress and urge incontinence. This is referred to as mixed urinary incontinence. These patients will work with their physician to determine the best treatment option.
With overflow incontinence, there is a constant or frequent small amount of leakage of urine from a bladder that does not empty. As the bladder remains full, the muscle stretches as more urine accumulates in the bladder. Over time the muscles become less effective at contracting to empty the urine. This causes a feeling that you need to urinate frequently. Often, you will not feel that you are emptying your bladder completely. Conditions such as diabetes may prevent the bladder from emptying completely, resulting in the symptoms described above. Certain medications such as over-the-counter cold pills and tranquilizers may also cause these symptoms. This type of incontinence is important to treat. If the urine remains long enough in the bladder, infections may occur. These infections could affect the kidneys and potentially pose serious health risks.