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Urinary Incontinence in Adults: Acute and Chronic Management

© Agency for Health Care Policy and Research

How Your Body Makes, Stores, and Releases Urine
When you eat and drink, your body absorbs the liquid. The kidneys filter out waste products from the body fluids and make urine.

Urine travels down tubes called ureters into a muscular sac called the urinary bladder, which stores the urine.

When you are ready to go to the bathroom, your brain tells your system to relax.

Urine travels out of your bladder through a tube called the urethra. You release urine by relaxing the urethral sphincter and contracting the bladder muscles. The urethral sphincter is a group of muscles that tightens to hold urine in and loosens to let it out.

Purpose of This Booklet
Many people lose urine when they don't want to. When this happens enough to be a problem, it is called urinary incontinence.

Urinary incontinence is very common. But some people are too embarrassed to get help. The good news is that millions of men and women are being successfully treated and cured.

Reading this booklet will help you. But it is important to tell your health care provider (such as a doctor or nurse) about the problem. You may even want to bring this booklet with you to help you talk about your incontinence.

Causes of Urinary Incontinence
Urinary incontinence is not a natural part of aging. It can happen at any age, and can be caused by many physical conditions. Many causes of incontinence are temporary and can be managed with simple treatment. Some causes of temporary incontinence are:
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Vaginal infection or irritation
  • Constipation
  • Effects of medicine

Incontinence can be caused by other conditions that are not temporary. Other causes of incontinence are:

  • Weakness of muscles that hold the bladder in place
  • Weakness of the bladder itself
  • Weakness of the urethral sphincter muscles
  • Overactive bladder muscles
  • Blocked urethra (can be from prostate enlargement)
  • Hormone imbalance in women
  • Neurologic disorders
  • Immobility (not being able to move around)
In almost every case, these conditions can be treated. Your health care provider will help to find the exact cause of your incontinence.

Types of Incontinence
There are also many different types of incontinence. Some people have more than one type of incontinence. You should be able to identify the type of incontinence you have by comparing it to the list below.

Urge incontinence:
People with urge incontinence lose urine as soon as they feel a strong need to go to the bathroom. If you have urge incontinence you may leak urine:
  • When you can't get to the bathroom quickly enough
  • When you drink even a small amount of liquid, or when you hear or touch running water

You may also...

  • Go to the bathroom very often; for example, every two hours during the day and night. You may even wet the bed

Stress incontinence:
People with stress incontinence lose urine when they exercise or move in a certain way. If you have stress incontinence, you may leak urine:
  • When you sneeze, cough, or laugh
  • When you get up from a chair or get out of bed
  • When you walk or do other exercise

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Disclaimer: The information provided on HealthWorld Online is for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.