Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control, or leaking urine.
Urine is made by the kidneys and stored in the bladder. The bladder has muscles that tighten when you need to urinate. When the bladder muscles tighten, urine is forced out of your bladder through a tube called the Urethra. At the same time, cphincter muscles around the urethra relax to let the urine out of your body.
Incontinence can happen when the bladder muscles suddenly tighten and the sphincter muscles are not strong enough to pinch the urethra shut. This causes a sudden, strong urge to urinate that you may not be able to control. Pressure caused by laughing, sneezing, or exercising can cause you to leak urine. Urinary incontinence may also happen if there is a problem with the nerves that control the bladder muscles and urethra. Urinary incontinence can mean you leak a small amount of urine or release a lot of urine all at once.
Urinary incontinence affects twice as many women as men. This is because reproductive health events unique to women, like Pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause, affect the bladder, urethra, and other muscles that support these organs.
Urinary incontinence can happen to women at any age, but it is more common in older women. This is probably because of hormonal changes during menopause. More than 4 in 10 women 65 and older have urinary incontinence.
Women have unique health events, such as pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause, that may affect the urinary tract and the surrounding muscles. The pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder, urethra, uterus (womb), and bowels may become weaker or damaged. When the muscles that support the urinary tract are weak, the muscles in the urinary tract must work harder to hold urine until you are ready to urinate. This extra stress or pressure on the bladder and urethra can cause urinary incontinence or leakage.
Also, the female urethra is shorter than the male urethra. Any weakness or damage to the urethra in a woman is more likely to cause urinary incontinence. This is because there is less muscle keeping the urine in until you are ready to urinate.
The two most common types of urinary incontinence in women are:
- Stress incontinence. This is the most common type of incontinence. It is also the most common type of incontinence that affects younger women. Stress incontinence happens when there is stress or pressure on the bladder. Stress incontinence can happen when weak pelvic floor muscles put pressure on the bladder and urethra by making them work harder. With stress incontinence, everyday actions that use the pelvic floor muscles, such as coughing, sneezing, or laughing, can cause you to leak urine. Sudden movements and physical activity can also cause you to leak urine.
- Urge incontinence. With urge incontinence, urine leakage usually happens after a strong, sudden urge to urinate and before you can get to a bathroom. Some women with urge incontinence are able to get to a bathroom in time but feel the urge to urinate more than eight times a day. They also do not urinate much once they get to the bathroom. Urge incontinence is sometimes called “overactive bladder.” Urge incontinence is more common in older women. It can happen when you don’t expect it, such as during sleep, after drinking water, or when you hear or touch running water.
Many women with urinary incontinence have both stress and urge incontinence. This is called “mixed” incontinence.