Aging & Health A to Z
Causes & Symptoms
Types of Urinary Incontinence and Their Symptoms
There are several types of UI, and each type has different symptoms.
We all experience an urge when it’s time to go the toilet. You may have urge UI if you have a sudden and very strong urge to urinate and are sometimes unable to make it to the toilet on time. This is the most common type of UI in older adults. It is often caused by the brain not controlling a signal from the bladder, allowing the bladder muscle to contract when you are not ready to pass urine. This is the most common type of urinary incontinence in older people.
You may have stress UI if you leak or dribble urine when the pressure in your abdomen (stomach area) increases. This may happen when you cough, sneeze, laugh, or are physically active. This type of incontinence is most common in women, although men may get it after prostate surgery.
If you have frequent dribbling of urine, you may have overflow incontinence. This type of UI is caused by incomplete emptying of the bladder. This is the least common type of UI.
If you have symptoms of urge and stress incontinence, you may have mixed UI.
You may have an overactive bladder if you have a very strong urge to urinate, but do not necessarily lose control of your bladder. You may also have to urinate frequently during the day and night.
Causes of Urinary Incontinence
Many things can either cause UI or make it worse, including foods and beverages, medications, medical conditions, and problems with walking or getting from a bed to a chair.
Beverages and foods that can cause or worsen UI include:
- Caffeine (coffee, cola, and tea including green tea)
- Carbonated beverages
- Artificial sweeteners
- Foods high in spice or sugar
- Foods high in acid, such as citrus fruits
Medications and supplements that can cause or worsen UI:
- Diuretics, or “water pills”
- Some heart and blood pressure medications
- Some cold and allergy medications
- Some medications for depression and anxiety
- Some medications for diabetes
- Some medications for dementia
- Muscle relaxants
Talk to your healthcare provider about any medications you are taking that might be causing UI. Never stop any medications without talking to your healthcare provider first.
Medical conditions that can cause or worsen UI:
- Urinary tract infection
- Prostate problems in men (enlarged prostate)
- Having had a hysterectomy
- Some neurologic diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, stroke or spinal injury
Risk Factors for Urinary Incontinence
- Gender. Stress incontinence is more common in women, both because of normal anatomy, and because of other life events that are unique to women, such as pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause that increase the risk of stress UI. In men, prostate gland problems can cause urge and rarely overflow incontinence.
- Age. With aging, bladder spasms that the brain cannot control become more common.
- Being overweight. Extra weight puts more pressure on your bladder and surrounding muscles, which can cause urine to leak, especially when you cough or sneeze.
Untreated UI can contribute to or increase your risk of other health problems including:
- Urinary tract infections
- Skin problems, such as rashes, sores, and infections from being exposed to wet skin
- Social withdrawal, isolation, and depression from fear of accidents and odor
- Falls and fractures, especially from getting up at night or rushing to get to the toilet
- Sexual problems
Updated: December 2017
Posted: March 2012