OAB: Primary and Secondary Types of Urinary Incontinence

Stress Incontinence

What is stress incontinence? This type of incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine associated with activities that increase physical stress and pressure in the abdomen and bladder, such as laughing, sneezing, coughing, exercising, heavy lifting and having sex.

Who's affected by stress incontinence? An estimated 15 million women in the United States are affected, according to the National Association for Continence (NAFC). This is the most common form of incontinence among women.

What causes stress incontinence? Stress incontinence can occur at any stage of life. However, the physical changes of pregnancy, childbirth or menopause can weaken the pelvic floor or the ligaments that support the bladder, making you especially susceptible at these times.

Urge Incontinence

What is urge incontinence? This type of incontinence is characterized by losing a considerable amount of urine for no apparent reason after feeling a sudden, urgent need to void. You may urinate more than eight times per day and have to get up for the bathroom more than twice overnight. Urge incontinence is the wet form of OAB.

Who's affected by urge incontinence? This condition occurs twice as frequently in women as in men, and becomes more common with age. It's estimated that 12.2 million adults in the U.S. are affected.

What causes urge incontinence? Abnormal nerve signals or muscle damage trigger inappropriate spasms of the muscle in the bladder wall, creating the feeling of a continuous, uncontrollable and uncomfortable need to urinate.

Overflow Incontinence

What is overflow incontinence? Because your bladder doesn't empty properly, small amounts dribble out involuntarily. You likely won't sense that your bladder is full and will lose urine without noticing it. You also may feel as though your bladder is never empty.

Who's affected by overflow incontinence? While this type of incontinence can affect either sex, it's more common in men. Men have prostates, which can become enlarged and block the flow of urine.

What causes overflow incontinence? In women, weak bladder muscles, a blocked urethra, pelvic organ prolapse, scar tissue or kidney stones can cause overflow incontinence. If it isn't treated, overflow incontinence can lead to a bladder infection resulting from a buildup of urine, Dr. Rabin says.

Mixed Incontinence

What is mixed incontinence? This most often involves characteristics of both stress and urge incontinence. It can include leakage of varying degrees with strenuous physical activity (stress incontinence) and an overwhelmingly strong, sudden, uncontrollable urge to urinate immediately, a sensation that doesn't let you make it to the toilet in time (urge incontinence).

Who's affected by mixed incontinence? "Most people who have incontinence have mixed incontinence," says Linda Brubaker, M.D., director of the division of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery at Loyola University Health System in Chicago. "We don't know why it's the most common form but we are sure that it is."

What causes mixed incontinence? The same factors that trigger stress and urge incontinence are involved in mixed incontinence—weakened pelvic floor muscles and poor connective tissue make you susceptible to leakage with activities that increase physical pressure in the abdomen (stress incontinence), whereas abnormal nerve signals trigger inappropriate contractions of the muscles in the bladder wall, creating the uncontrollable urge to go 24/7 (urge incontinence).

Functional Incontinence

What is functional incontinence? Unlike other forms of incontinence, this type doesn't involve problems with the urinary system, muscles or nerves. Instead, it occurs when a person is unable to reach the bathroom in time to urinate because of physical or mental limitations.

Who's affected by functional incontinence? This is one of the most common types of urinary incontinence among older adults who suffer from arthritis, Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's disease.

What causes functional incontinence?This condition is a side effect of another medical or mental health issue.

Transient Incontinence

What is transient incontinence? This is a temporary form of incontinence, usually caused by a short-lived medical condition—or the treatment for the condition.

Who's affected by transient incontinence? People who have severe constipation, who have an irritated or inflamed bladder, urethra or vagina or who are recovering from surgery or taking medication such as a diuretic or sleeping pill are more apt to suffer.

What causes transient incontinence? This type of incontinence is a side effect of another medical issue or medication.

Total Incontinence

What is total incontinence? It's the complete loss of urinary control.

Who's affected by total incontinence? Individuals who have a vesicovaginal fistula, an abnormal connection between the urinary tract and the vagina. Also, people who have suffered spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis or another disorder that affects nerve function.

What causes total incontinence? This can be a result of anatomic abnormalities or a severe injury.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 17 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 02 Apr 2014