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Incontinence

With urinary incontinence, you experience an involuntary leakage of urine due to loss of bladder control. People often avoid seeking help since they find it embarrassing - which means the condition is sometimes left untreated. This is very unfortunate since the underlying cause is often treatable, and treatment can improve quality of life dramatically. 


The symptoms and severity of urinary incontinence range from occasionally leaking urine when you cough or sneeze to having an urge to urinate that’s so sudden and strong that you don’t get to the toilet in time. There are different types of incontinence and the most common are stress, urge and overflow incontinence. Read on for more information.

Susan's story

Susan had developed incontinence due to delivering a stillborn child. A cancer diagnosis later added to her urinary difficulties. She talks about how CIC has transformed her everyday life.

Stress incontinence

This is loss of urine when you exert pressure - stress - on your bladder by coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising or lifting something heavy. Stress incontinence occurs when the sphincter muscle and/or the pelvic floor of the bladder is weakened. In women, this could be due to physical changes resulting from pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. In men, removal of the prostate gland can lead to this type of incontinence. Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms, and ranges from behaviour advice and physical therapy to pharmaceuticals and surgery.

Urge incontinence

This is a sudden, intense urge to urinate, followed by an involuntary loss of urine. Your bladder muscle contracts and may give you a warning of only a few seconds to a minute to reach a toilet. With urge incontinence, you may need to urinate often, including throughout the night. Urge incontinence may be caused by urinary tract infections, bladder irritants (pharmaceuticals, foodstuff etc.), urinary retention, bowel problems, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, stroke, injury or nervous system damage associated with multiple sclerosis. If there's no known cause, urge incontinence is also called overactive bladder. Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms, and ranges from behaviour advice and physical therapy to pharmaceuticals, catheterisation and surgery, often a combination of treatment is mostly effective.

Overflow incontinence

If you frequently or constantly dribble urine, you may have overflow incontinence, which is an inability to empty your bladder. Sometimes you may feel as if you never completely empty your bladder. When you try to urinate, you may produce only a weak stream of urine. This type of incontinence may occur in people with a damaged bladder, blocked urethra or nerve damage from diabetes and in men with prostate gland problems. Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms and ranges from catheterisation, behaviour advice and physical therapy to pharmaceuticals and surgery, often a combination of treatment is mostly effective.

Mixed incontinence

If you experience symptoms of more than one type of urinary incontinence, such as stress incontinence and urge incontinence, you have mixed incontinence.

Other, less common types of incontinence include:

  • Functional incontinence: Older adults or disabled people may experience incontinence simply because a physical or mental impairment keeps them from making it to the toilet in time. For example, a person with severe arthritis may not be able to unbutton his or her pants quickly enough. 
  • Gross total incontinence: This term is sometimes used to describe continuous leaking of urine, day and night, or the periodic uncontrollable leaking of large volumes of urine. In such cases, the bladder has no storage capacity. Some people have this type of incontinence because they were born with an anatomical defect. It can be caused by injuries to the spinal cord or urinary system, or by an abnormal opening (fistula) between the bladder and an adjacent structure, such as the vagina. Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms and ranges from catheterisation, behaviour advice and physical therapy to pharmaceuticals and surgery, often in combination. 
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