Women are most likely to develop urinary incontinence during pregnancy and after childbirth, or after the hormonal changes of menopause.
Whatever urinary incontinence looks like for you, it can be an inconvenient and embarrassing problem.
If you’re experiencing urinary incontinence, you’re not alone. Urinary incontinence affects millions of men and women of all ages, but there are ways to lessen its frequency and better manage the condition. It’s estimated that 2-3% of teenagers deal with urinary incontinence and that nearly 25% of women experience it for at least a year after childbirth. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, urinary incontinence also affects 11-34% of older men.
Urinary incontinence is a common problem in which you lose control of your bladder and experience urine leakage. It may be a small leak, or your bladder may release a large amount of urine, and leaks can occur occasionally or more frequently.
There are six main types of urinary incontinence:
- Stress incontinence. This is when urine leaks because you put pressure on your bladder by laughing, sneezing, exercising, lifting something heavy, etc.
- Urge incontinence. With this type of incontinence, you experience a sudden, intense need to urinate followed by an uncontrollable loss of urine. You may have this need often, including during the night. Urge incontinence can be caused by something minor like an infection (temporary or transient incontinence) or a more serious condition like diabetes or a neurological disorder.
- Overflow incontinence. You have frequent urine loss or a continual dribble due to an inability to empty your bladder fully.
- Functional incontinence. You struggle to get to the toilet and prepare to urinate in time due to some type of physical limitation.
- Mixed incontinence. Some people experience multiple types of incontinence, most commonly stress and urge incontinence.
- Bedwetting. This is more common in children but can also affect adults.
The good news is that there are several ways to manage urinary incontinence. Your doctor may prescribe one or more of these approaches:
- Pelvic muscle exercises. Called Kegels, these exercises help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which are essential in bladder control.
- Lifestyle modifications. Taking steps like maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, being physically active, addressing constipation if it occurs, and drinking the right amounts of fluids at the right time can help minimize urine leakage.
- Bladder training. This process involves your doctor developing a bathroom schedule for you based on your incontinence history and then gradually increasing the time between bathroom trips to train your bladder.
- Medication. Different types of drugs can help with incontinence by preventing bladder spasms, blocking certain nerve signals, or shrinking the prostate in men.
- Injections. A doctor can inject a so-called bulking agent into specific tissues to thicken them, enabling more complete sealing of the bladder.
- Devices. Medical devices called catheters can help drain the bladder more completely as needed. There is also a device that a woman can insert in her vagina that pushes against the urethra to help minimize leaks.
- Electrical stimulation. Stimulating specific nerves can modify bladder reflexes to reduce incontinence.
- Surgery. A surgeon can insert a sling that keeps the bladder in its proper position and reduces leakage.