Urinary Incontinence

It is not uncommon for women to leak small amounts of urine from time to time. When the involuntary loss of urine becomes frequent or is enough to affect your daily living, it is called urinary incontinence. Urinary incontinence is a common problem, estimated to effect more than 13 million Americans and, in most cases, can be treated with success.

If you think you may have urinary incontinence, it is important for you to know that you don’t have to live with it. Women wait an average of nine years to seek treatment, often because they say, “It’s not so bad,” or they fear treatment.

Urinary Incontinence Questionnaire (PDF)

There are many possible causes of urinary incontinence. For example:

  • Abnormalities of the tissues and organs in the urinary tract
  • Hormone problems
  • Infection
  • Nervous system problems
  • Pelvic support problems
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Overactive Bladder (Urge Incontinence)

Overactive Bladder (Urge Incontinence)

An overactive bladder means that your large bladder muscle has become unstable. If you suffer from an overactive bladder, you may have strong, sudden urges to go to the bathroom, even if your bladder contains little urine. You may find yourself going to the bathroom more than eight times in a 24-hour period, and oftentimes at night. Many women with this condition find that they suffer from accidents since the urge to urinate is so strong.

Stress Incontinence

Women suffer from stress incontinence when the muscles that support your urethra become weak. This weakness often occurs after pregnancy or menopause. When these muscles become weak, even the slightest amount of stress may cause a small amount of urine to pass. Activities such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, walking, exercising or lifting can cause urine to escape. Stress urinary incontinence is not necessarily a natural part of the aging process. It affects women of all ages.

Mixed Symptoms

It is fairly common for someone to have symptoms of both stress incontinence and an overactive bladder. If you have mixed symptoms, each symptom needs to be treated separately. There is no single treatment for both conditions. There is a less common type of urine loss, known as overflow incontinence, which results from over distension of the bladder. This may be as a result of a neurological condition, medications or urine outflow obstruction.


There are a number of steps that your provider may take to elicit the cause of incontinence. Your clinician may refer you to an incontinence specialist. At that visit a detailed history will be taken of your symptoms, your diet, medical history and medications. A urine specimen will be checked. There will be a brief pelvic exam as well as a painless evaluation of the pelvic floor muscle. You may or may not be asked to keep a bladder diary to track your symptoms for a few days.


Treatment and possible cure of urinary incontinence is available. A wide variety of treatments are available and the approach your physician takes will depend on the type of incontinence you suffer from. Treatments include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Dietary and behavioral modifications
  • Estrogen replacement therapy
  • Kegel exercises
  • Medication to control bladder spasms
  • Surgery

What Type of Bladder Control Problem do I Have?

Take a minute to answer the following questions. Be sure to share your answers with your physician at your next appointment. This information will provide your physician with important information to help determine which type of bladder control problem you are experiencing.

Symptoms of an Overactive Bladder

  • Do you frequently have a strong, sudden urge to urinate?
  • Do you sometimes not make it to the bathroom in time?
  • Do you go to the bathroom more than eight times in 24 hours?
  • Do you get up two or more times during the night to go to the bathroom?
  • How long have you had these symptoms?

Symptoms of Stress Incontinence

  • Do you experience a loss of urine when you are doing physical activities, such as lifting heavy objects or exercising?
  • Do you have a slight loss of urine when you sneeze, cough or laugh?

Mixed Symptoms

  • Do you have symptoms of both an overactive bladder and stress incontinence?

Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection

  • Do you experience a burning sensation when you urinate?
  • Do you frequently have a strong, sudden urge to urinate?
  • Do you go to the bathroom more than eight times per 24 hours?
  • Did your symptoms come on suddenly?
  • What prescription medication are you currently taking?
  • What over the counter drugs are you currently taking?