What Are Common Symptoms of Incontinence?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2018
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Incontinence is a medical term which refers to recurring lapses in bladder control. During these lapses, urine leakage varying in volume from a trickle to a stream unintentionally occurs. There are several different types of incontinence, and the exact symptoms of incontinence can vary depending upon the specific type. Common types include urge incontinence, stress incontinence, overflow incontinence, functional incontinence, and mixed incontinence.

Urge incontinence can be caused by infections of the bladder and urinary tract as well as by stroke and neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. Among all the symptoms of incontinence of this type, the most dominant is a sudden, strong urge to urinate which occurs when the muscles of the bladder rapidly contract. As this contraction is very sudden, those with urge incontinence often experience urine leakage before they can get to a bathroom. Sufferers of this condition may also find themselves waking throughout the night due to an urge to urinate.

Stress incontinence usually occurs among those whose bladder muscles have been weakened due to such factors as aging or childbirth. Symptoms of incontinence of this type include involuntary loss of urine when the bladder is physically strained. Many common movements and activities can put pressure on the bladder. For instance, those with stress incontinence may experience urine leakage when they laugh, sneeze, climb stairs, or pick up heavy objects.


Those whose urinary tract or bladder has structural abnormalities or has been damaged by injury or a medical condition may suffer from overflow incontinence. Irregularities of the bladder or urinary tract can make it difficult to fully empty one’s bladder when using the toilet. Symptoms of incontinence of this variety can therefore include ongoing leakage of small amounts of urine as well as the persistent feeling that one’s bladder is full.

Unlike most other types of incontinence, functional incontinence is not caused by problems with the bladder or urinary tract. Rather, functional incontinence generally affects those who have frequent “accidents” due to physical or mental issues which prevent them from effectively attending to their bathroom needs. For instance, an individual with dementia might experience episodes of incontinence because he forgets to go to the toilet when he feels the urge to urinate.

Finally, some people experience mixed incontinence, or urine leakage which arises due to multiple causes. An individual suffering from an autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis, for instance, may experience urge incontinence. Due to the fine motor difficulties that often accompany multiple sclerosis, the individual may have trouble unfastening her pants quickly, and therefore might also experience functional incontinence.



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