Incontinence Causes and Treatment

Article | October 2019

Incontinence Causes and Treatment

Learn more about incontinence including causes and treatment.

What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is loss of bladder control.

  • Urine is stored in a balloon-like organ—the bladder. Urine leaves the body through a tube called the urethra.
  • When bladder muscles tighten without warning, or the muscles at the base of the urethra relax without warning, you can have leakage.
  • The severity ranges from occasionally leaking urine when you cough or sneeze to having an urge to urinate that’s so sudden and strong you are not able to get to a toilet in time.

Incontinence is more common than many people think. In fact, over 50 percent of people aged 65 and over who live at home experience incontinence.1 It affects more women than men, and women may experience it more severely.

What are the most common types of incontinence?

  • Urge incontinence: When the bladder muscles are too active, causing frequent urges to urinate—even when the bladder is not full
  • Stress incontinence: When the bladder muscles weaken, causing urine loss due to sneezing, laughing, or lifting

What are the causes of incontinence?

Many factors can cause incontinence, such as:

  • Growing older: Pelvic and sphincter muscles get weaker.
  • Nerve damage: This could be due to diabetes, trauma, and other conditions.
  • Weight gain: Weight increases pressure on the bladder.
  • Prostate problems: This is very common among older men.
  • Urinary infections: These can increase the tendency for incontinence.
  • Constipation: This also increases pressure on the bladder.
  • Medications: Some over-the-counter medications can cause incontinence.
  • Lifestyle: Caffeine, alcohol, and other liquids can cause incontinence.

How is incontinence diagnosed?

In order to diagnose incontinence or loss of bladder control, your doctor may ask questions such as:

  • How often do you empty your bladder?
  • How many times do you wake up at night to empty your bladder?
  • What prescription or over-the-counter medication do you take?
  • How much caffeine, alcohol, and other liquids do you drink daily?
  • Do you have any pain or burning when you urinate?
  • Have you had abdominal, prostate, hysterectomy, or childbirth-related surgery?

What is the treatment for incontinence?

When it comes to treating incontinence, help is available. Depending on your individual needs, your doctor may focus on the following bladder control treatments:

  • Lifestyle changes to help improve bladder control
  • Exercises to strengthen the bladder
  • Treating existing conditions such as diabetes, constipation, and prostate problems
  • Referring you to a specialist, such as a urologist
  • Prescribing medication that helps improve bladder control

Talk to your doctor to find the incontinence treatment that’s right for you.

More Information

For more information, please visit the Mayo Clinic website.

Young doctor consulting with a senior woman on a sofa
1 Prevalence of Incontinence Among Older Americans, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 2014, https://www.cdc.gov/NCHS/Data/Series/SR_03/SR03_036.pdf