Overview of Urinary Incontinence

Urinary control relies on the finely coordinated activities of the smooth muscle tissue of the urethra and bladder, skeletal muscle, voluntary inhibition, and the autonomic nervous system.

Urinary incontinence can result from anatomic, physiologic, or pathologic (disease) factors. Congenital and acquired disorders of muscle innervation (e.g., ALS, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis) eventually cause inadequate urinary storage or control.

Acute and temporary incontinence are commonly caused by the following:

  • Childbirth
  • Limited mobility
  • Medication side effect
  • Urinary tract infection

Chronic incontinence is commonly caused by these factors:

  • Birth defects
  • Bladder muscle weakness
  • Blocked urethra (due to benign prostate hyperplasia [BPH, enlarged prostate], tumor, etc.)
  • Brain or spinal cord injury
  • Nerve disorders
  • Pelvic floor muscle weakness
  • Vaginal prolapse

Incidence and Prevalence of Incontinence

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 13 million people in the United States suffer from urinary incontinence. The condition is far more prevalent in women than men. In the general population aged 15 to 64 years old, 10–30 percent of women versus 1.5–5 percent of men are affected. At least 50 percent of nursing home residents are affected. Of that number, 70 percent are women.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 09 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 13 Oct 2015