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definitions - Urinary_incontinence

urinary incontinence (n.)

1.inability to control the flow of urine and involuntary urination

Urinary Incontinence (n.)

1.(MeSH)Involuntary loss of URINE, such as leaking of urine. It is a symptom of various underlying pathological processes. Major types of incontinence include URINARY URGE INCONTINENCE and URINARY STRESS INCONTINENCE.

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synonyms - Urinary_incontinence

urinary incontinence (n.)


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Urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 N39.3-N39.4, R32
ICD-9 788.3
DiseasesDB 6764
MedlinePlus 003142
eMedicine med/2781
MeSH D014549

Urinary incontinence (UI) is any involuntary leakage of urine. It can be a common and distressing problem, which may have a profound impact on quality of life. Urinary incontinence almost always results from an underlying treatable medical condition but is under-reported to medical practitioners.[1] There is also a related condition for defecation known as fecal incontinence.




Continence and micturition involve a balance between urethral closure and detrusor muscle activity. Urethral pressure normally exceeds bladder pressure, resulting in urine remaining in the bladder. The proximal urethra and bladder are both within the pelvis. Intraabdominal pressure increases (from coughing and sneezing) are transmitted to both urethra and bladder equally, leaving the pressure differential unchanged, resulting in continence. Normal voiding is the result of changes in both of these pressure factors: urethral pressure falls and bladder pressure rises.


Patients with incontinence should be referred to a medical practitioner specializing in this field. Urologists specialize in the urinary tract, and some urologists further specialize in the female urinary tract. A urogynecologist is a gynecologist who has special training in urological problems in women. Family physicians and internists see patients for all kinds of complaints, and are well trained to diagnose and treat this common problem. These primary care specialists can refer patients to urology specialists if needed.

A careful history taking is essential especially in the pattern of voiding and urine leakage as it suggests the type of incontinence faced. Other important points include straining and discomfort, use of drugs, recent surgery, and illness.

The physical examination will focus on looking for signs of medical conditions causing incontinence, such as tumors that block the urinary tract, stool impaction, and poor reflexes or sensations, which may be evidence of a nerve-related cause.

A test often performed is the measurement of bladder capacity and residual urine for evidence of poorly functioning bladder muscles.

Other tests include:

  • Stress test – the patient relaxes, then coughs vigorously as the doctor watches for loss of urine.
  • Urinalysis – urine is tested for evidence of infection, urinary stones, or other contributing causes.
  • Blood tests – blood is taken, sent to a laboratory, and examined for substances related to causes of incontinence.
  • Ultrasound – sound waves are used to visualize the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.
  • Cystoscopy – a thin tube with a tiny camera is inserted in the urethra and used to see the inside of the urethra and bladder.
  • Urodynamics – various techniques measure pressure in the bladder and the flow of urine.

Patients are often asked to keep a diary for a day or more, up to a week, to record the pattern of voiding, noting times and the amounts of urine produced.


  • Stress incontinence, also known as effort incontinence, is due essentially to insufficient strength of the pelvic floor muscles.
  • Urge incontinence is involuntary loss of urine occurring for no apparent reason while suddenly feeling the need or urge to urinate.
  • Overflow incontinence: Sometimes people find that they cannot stop their bladders from constantly dribbling or continuing to dribble for some time after they have passed urine. It is as if their bladders were constantly overflowing, hence the general name overflow incontinence.
  • Mixed incontinence is not uncommon in the elderly female population and can sometimes be complicated by urinary retention, which makes it a treatment challenge requiring staged multimodal treatment.[4]
  • Structural incontinence: Rarely, structural problems can cause incontinence, usually diagnosed in childhood (for example, an ectopic ureter). Fistulas caused by obstetric and gynecologic trauma or injury can lead to incontinence. These types of vaginal fistulas include, most commonly, vesicovaginal fistula and, more rarely, ureterovaginal fistula. These may be difficult to diagnose. The use of standard techniques along with a vaginogram or radiologically viewing the vaginal vault with instillation of contrast media.[5]
  • Functional incontinence occurs when a person recognizes the need to urinate but cannot make it to the bathroom. The urine loss may be large. Causes of functional incontinence include confusion, dementia, poor eyesight, poor mobility, poor dexterity, unwillingness to toilet because of depression, anxiety or anger, drunkenness, or being in a situation in which it is impossible to reach a toilet.[6] People with functional incontinence may have problems thinking, moving, or communicating that prevent them from reaching a toilet. A person with Alzheimer's Disease, for example, may not think well enough to plan a timely trip to a restroom. A person in a wheelchair may be blocked from getting to a toilet in time. Conditions such as these are often associated with age and account for some of the incontinence of elderly women and men in nursing homes.[7] Disease or biology is not necessarily the cause of functional incontinence. For example, someone on a road trip may be between rest stops and on the highway; also, there may be problems with the restrooms in the vicinity.
  • Bedwetting is episodic UI while asleep. It is normal in young children.
  • Transient incontinence is a temporary version of incontinence. It can be triggered by medications, adrenal insufficiency, mental impairment, restricted mobility, and stool impaction (severe constipation), which can push against the urinary tract and obstruct outflow.
  • Giggle incontinence is an involuntary response to laughter. It usually affects children.

  In women

Bladder symptoms affect women of all ages. However, bladder problems are most prevalent among older women.[8] Up to 35% of the total population over the age of 60 years is estimated to be incontinent, with women twice as likely as men to experience incontinence. One in three women over the age of 60 years are estimated to have bladder control problems.[9]

Bladder control problems have been found to be associated with higher incidence of many other health problems such as obesity and diabetes. Difficulty with bladder control results in higher rates of depression and limited activity levels.[10]

Incontinence is expensive both to individuals in the form of bladder control products and to the health care system and nursing home industry. Injury related to incontinence is a leading cause of admission to assisted living and nursing care facilities. More than 50% of nursing facility admissions are related to incontinence.[11]

Coital incontinence (CI) is urinary leakage that occurs during either penetration or orgasm and can occur with a sexual partner or with masturbation. It has been reported to occur in 10% to 24% of sexually active women with pelvic floor disorders.[12]

  In men

Men tend to experience incontinence less often than women, and the structure of the male urinary tract accounts for this difference. It is common with prostate cancer treatments. Both women and men can become incontinent from neurologic injury, congenital defects, strokes, multiple sclerosis, and physical problems associated with aging.

While urinary incontinence affects older men more often than younger men, the onset of incontinence can happen at any age. Recent estimates by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggest that 17 percent of men over age 60, an estimated 600,000 men, experience urinary incontinence, with this percentage increasing with age.[13] Incontinence is treatable and often curable at all ages.

Incontinence in men usually occurs because of problems with muscles that help to hold or release urine. The body stores urine—water and wastes removed by the kidneys—in the urinary bladder, a balloon-like organ. The bladder connects to the urethra, the tube through which urine leaves the body.

During urination, Detrusor muscles in the wall of the bladder contract, forcing urine out of the bladder and into the urethra. At the same time, sphincter muscles surrounding the urethra relax, letting urine pass out of the body. Incontinence will occur if the bladder muscles suddenly contract or muscles surrounding the urethra suddenly relax.


The treatment options range from conservative treatment, behavior management, medications and surgery.[14] The success of treatment depends on the correct diagnoses in the first place.[15]

  Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is commonly used as a conservative, early-stage treatment for urinary incontinence. Pelvic floor muscle training, otherwise known as Kegel exercises, has been shown to significantly increase pelvic muscle strength and decrease severity of urinary incontinence in adults and in children, regardless of gender.[16][17][18]


A number of medications exist to treat incontinence including: fesoterodine, tolterodine and oxybutynin.[19] While a number appear to have a small benefit, the risk of side effects are a concern.[19]


Absorbent pads and various types of urinary catheters may help those individuals who continue to experience incontinence.[20] Some absorbent pads are not bulky like many older types were,[clarification needed] but are close fitting underwear with liners.[examples needed]

Absorbent products include shields, undergarments, protective underwear, briefs, diapers, adult diapers and underpads. Absorbent products are associated with leaks, odors, skin breaksown and UTI.

Men also can use an external urine collection device that is worn around the penis. There are two principal types. The traditional type is referred to as a condom or Texas catheter. These are not appropriate for men who are uncircumcised, have large or small anatomy or those who are have retracted anatomy. Condom catheter users frequently experience complications including urinary tract infections and skin breakdown. A recent innovation is the Men's Liberty that attaches only to the tip of the penis with safe hydrocolloid adhesive and works with all types and sizes of male anatomy. There has not been a confirmed UTI or serious skin injury caused by Men's Liberty.

Hospitals often use some type of incontinence pad, a small but highly absorbent sheet placed beneath the patient, to deal with incontinence or other unexpected discharges of bodily fluid. These pads are especially useful when it is not practical for the patient to wear a diaper.

The most common form of urine management in hospitals is indwelling or Foley catheters.[citation needed] These catheters may cause infection and other associated secondary complications.[citation needed]

  In children

Urination, or voiding, is a complex activity. The bladder is a balloonlike muscle that lies in the lowest part of the abdomen. The bladder stores urine, then releases it through the urethra, the canal that carries urine to the outside of the body. Controlling this activity involves nerves, muscles, the spinal cord and the brain.

The bladder is made of two types of muscles: the detrusor, a muscular sac that stores urine and squeezes to empty, and the sphincter, a circular group of muscles at the bottom or neck of the bladder that automatically stay contracted to hold the urine in and automatically relax when the detrusor contracts to let the urine into the urethra. A third group of muscles below the bladder (pelvic floor muscles) can contract to keep urine back.

A baby's bladder fills to a set point, then automatically contracts and empties. As the child gets older, the nervous system develops. The child's brain begins to get messages from the filling bladder and begins to send messages to the bladder to keep it from automatically emptying until the child decides it is the time and place to void.

Failures in this control mechanism result in incontinence. Reasons for this failure range from the simple to the complex.

Incontinence happens less often after age 5: About 10 percent of 5-year-olds, 5 percent of 10-year-olds, and 1 percent of 18-year-olds experience episodes of incontinence. It is twice as common in girls as in boys.


  1. ^ "Managing Urinary Incontinence". National Prescribing Service, available at http://www.nps.org.au/health_professionals/publications/nps_news/current/nps_news_66_managing_urinary_incontinence_in_primary_care
  2. ^ merck.com > Polyuria: A Merck Manual of Patient Symptoms podcast. Last full review/revision September 2009 by Seyed-Ali Sadjadi, MD
  3. ^ What is urinary incontinence? Family Doctor. Retrieved on 2010-03-02
  4. ^ Walid MS, Heaton RL (2009). "Stepwise Multimodal Treatment of Mixed Urinary Incontinence with Voiding Problems in a Patient with Prolapse". Journal of Gynecologic Surgery 25 (3): 121–127. DOI:10.1089/gyn.2009.0014. 
  5. ^ Macaluso JN, Appell RA, Sullivan JW: Ureterovaginal fistula detected by vaginogram. JAMA. 246:1339-1340, 1981
  6. ^ "Functional incontinence". Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-07-23. http://web.archive.org/web/20080723150611/http://health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/continence-what-functional.htm. Retrieved 2008-08-29. 
  7. ^ Walid MS (2009). "Prevalence of Urinary Incontinence in Female Residents of American Nursing Homes and Association with Neuropsychiatric Disorders". JOCMR 1 (1): 37–9. DOI:10.4021/jocmr2009.04.1232. 
  8. ^ Password F., View I. How widespread are the symptoms of an overactive bladder and how are they managed? A population-based prevalence study. BJU Int 2001; 87: 760–6.
  9. ^ 2. Hannestad Y.S., Rortveit G., Sandvik H., Hunskaar S. A community-based epidemiological survey of female urinary incontinence: The Norwegian EPINCONT Study. J Clin Epidemiol 2000; 53: 1150–7
  10. ^ 3. Nygaard I., Turvey C., Burns T.L., Crischilles E., Wallace R. Urinary Incontinence and Depression in Middle-Aged United States Women. acogjnl 2003; 101: 149–56
  11. ^ Thom D.H., Haan M.N., Van den Eeden, Stephen K. Medically recognized urinary incontinence and risks of hospitalization, nursing home admission and mortality. Age Ageing 1997; 26: 367–74
  12. ^ Karlovsky, Matthew E. MD, Female Urinary Incontinence During Sexual Intercourse (Coital Incontinence): A Review, The Female Patient (retrieved 22 August 2010)
  13. ^ Lynn Stothers, L., Thom, D., Calhoun, E., “Chapter 6: Urinary Incontinence in Men,” Urologic Diseases in America Report 2007, National Institutes of Health.
  14. ^ Clinical audit of the use of tension-free vaginal tape as a surgical treatment for urinary stress incontinence, set against NICE guidelines. Price N and Jackson SR. J Obstet Gynaecol, Aug 2004; 24(5): 534-538http://www.oxfordgynaecology.com/Conditions/Urinary-Incontinence.aspx
  15. ^ What is Male Urinary Incontinence? Retrieved on 2010-03-02
  16. ^ Kashanian, M.; Ali, S. S.; Nazemi, M.; Bahasadri, S. (2011). "Evaluation of the effect of pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT or Kegel exercise) and assisted pelvic floor muscle training (APFMT) by a resistance device (Kegelmaster device) on the urinary incontinence in women "comparison between them: A randomized trial"". European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology 159 (1): 218–223. DOI:10.1016/j.ejogrb.2011.06.037. PMID 21741151.  edit
  17. ^ Mayo Clinic Staff. "Kegel Exercises For Men: Understand the Benefits". Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/kegel-exercises-for-men/MY01402. Retrieved 18 April, 2012. 
  18. ^ Schneider, M. S.; King, L. R.; Surwit, R. S. (1994). "Kegel exercises and childhood incontinence: A new role for an old treatment". The Journal of pediatrics 124 (1): 91–92. PMID 8283381.  edit
  19. ^ a b "Systematic Review: Benefits and Harms of Pharmacologic Treatment for Urinary Incontinence in Women". Annals of Internal Medicine. http://www.annals.org/content/early/2012/04/09/0003-4819-156-12-201206190-00436.full#abstract-1. 
  20. ^ Urinary Incontinence, Nonsurgical Therapies eMedicine. Retrieved on 2010-03-02

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