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Types of Incontinence

Stress incontinence is the most common form of incontinence and is the leakage of urine when sudden pressure or "stress," (such as coughing, laughing, sneezing, and jumping) is exerted on the bladder. If the pelvic muscles are stretched or damaged, the urethra moves and has a harder time remaining closed. Poor control of the sphincter (the ring of muscle at the outlet of the bladder that stops the flow of urine) is another anatomical reason for stress incontinence.

Urge incontinence is an urgent need to urinate and the inability to control it in time to get to the toilet. Urge incontinence is most often the result of erratic contractions of the bladder, and may be unrelated to bladder fullness. This can occur when you have a urinary tract infection or bladder tumor. Most commonly it occurs without any identifiable cause. In some people, extremely cold weather or even the sound of running water can promote an urge to urinate.

Reflex incontinence, a variation of urge incontinence, occurs when the bladder contracts involuntarily but you don't experience an urge to urinate. This type is common in people with neurological diseases (causing miscommunication between the bladder and the brain) or following pelvic surgery.

Overflow incontinence is bladder leakage that occurs without warning and without the sense that you have to urinate. It often presents itself as a constant dribble of urine, and can be caused by conditions including diabetes, neurological problems, and pelvic surgery. If it is caused by a blockage or an ineffective sphincter, surgery can help.

Mixed incontinence is having more than one type of incontinence at the same time. About one third of women who have stress incontinence also have urge incontinence. Learn more about Urinary Incontinence in Women from our Dartmouth-Hitchcock Healthwise® Health Encyclopedia website.

Fecal incontinence is the loss of bowel control and the unintentional release of feces or gas. It can be caused by many conditions, including constipation or diarrhea, stress, childbirth, and recent surgeries in that part of the body. You may be helped by surgery or non-surgical means.

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