What Is Incontinence?

Category: Medical Information

elderly man playing chess outside by dog

Let’s be honest; soiling one’s pants isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. Unfortunately, according to the National Association for Continence (NAFC), more than 33 million people in the United States experience urinary incontinence or an issue with their bladder. While the NAFC notes that urinary incontinence isn’t an uncommon problem, this doesn’t mean you should accept bladder issues instead of seeking answers and looking for possible treatments early on.

To find out more about incontinence, keep reading.

What is incontinence? 

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), incontinence is when someone becomes unable to completely control when urine or feces is released. Urinary incontinence occurs when a person becomes incapable of holding urine in thoroughly. According to the Cleveland Clinic, bowel incontinence (or fecal incontinence) is when feces passes unintentionally out of the rectum. This can vary from passing feces unintentionally while passing gas or exercising to a complete loss of bowel control.

What are the types of urinary incontinence? 

According to the Mayo Clinic, urinary incontinence frequently occurs in the elderly. However, the Mayo Clinic notes that urinary incontinence is not an imminent part of the aging process. Urinary incontinence can vary from light leaks when your body moves a certain way (when sneezing, for example) to a sudden urge to urinate that makes you incapable of reaching a toilet in time.

There are multiple types of urinary incontinence, including:

Stress incontinence 

Characterized by bladder leaks when a person engages their core muscles (generally occurs during laughing, sneezing, coughing, or exercising).

Urge incontinence

Experiencing abrupt and strong urges to urinate. Urge incontinence can lead to frequent urination and/or leaks. This type of incontinence can be associated with an infection, certain neurological diseases, or diabetes.

Overflow incontinence

When urine leaks out without your control. Generally, this is due to the bladder failing to empty completely.

Functional incontinence 

Characterized by a mental or physical issue interfering with your ability to reach the toilet in time.

Mixed incontinence 

As the name suggests, this is when you have multiple types of urinary incontinence. Most commonly, stress incontinence and urge incontinence become mixed incontinence.

What causes incontinence? 

son hugging elderly dad

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the causes of urinary incontinence differ between men and women. Women are more likely to experience urinary incontinence due to the fact that pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause can all weaken the pelvic floor, which can cause incontinence. In men, incontinence can be caused by issues with the prostate. The rest of the causes of urinary incontinence are the same between men and women, such as:

Temporary causes:

  • Certain medications
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Constipation
  • Alcohol
  • Coffee

Medical causes:

  • Complications from diabetes
  • Complications from a stroke
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Is there treatment for incontinence? 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, urinary incontinence is very treatable. However, some who suffer from incontinence due to a chronic condition may not be able to regain full control (if any, in the situation where excessive damage has already been done).

What are the treatments for urinary incontinence? 

If you’re new to experiencing symptoms of urinary incontinence, your doctor may merely suggest some lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk of urine leaking or occasional accidents, such as:

  • A regular bathroom routine
  • Kegel exercises
  • Bladder training exercises
  • Diet and exercise (especially if you’re overweight)
  • Making a habit of urinating before strenuous activities
  • Avoiding lifting heavy objects
  • Pads, vaginal inserts, or incontinence underwear for women can also aid with confidence during training to ease some of the fear of accidents.

If lifestyle changes fail to help, other medical treatments may help you find some relief, such as:

  • Medications to help control the muscles
  • Injecting a bulking agent into the urethra
  • Botox for the bladder
  • Neuromodulation devices that stimulate the nerves in the bladder
  • A sling procedure (adding extra tissue to support the urethra)
  • For some cases of male incontinence, an artificial urethral sphincter can help close the urethra when urination is complete.

Can incontinence be prevented? 

Some causes of incontinence cannot always be prevented. However, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestion and Kidney Diseases (NIH), keeping your urinary system and pelvic floor as healthy as possible can play a role in preventing urinary incontinence.

According to the NIH, incorporating the following into your lifestyle may do wonders to prevent urinary incontinence:

  • Maintaining a healthy high-fiber diet to avoid constipation.
  • Avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol, spicy foods, chocolate, artificial sweeteners, caffeinated drinks, carbonated drinks, citrus drinks, and foods with high acid content
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Keeping a healthy weight
  • Kegel exercises
  • Not smoking
  • Avoiding “holding it in.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, some causes of fecal incontinence may be able to be prevented by doing the following:

  • Prevent constipation with plenty of fluids, a high-fiber diet, and exercise
  • Controlling diarrhea
  • Avoiding straining during bowel movements

Incontinence may seem like a “normal” part of aging, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. By taking the steps necessary to keep your urinary system healthy and your pelvic floor strong, you could prevent incontinence for years. If you’re finding yourself less secure with incontinence issues, be sure to talk to your doctor and seek the help available to you.


Fecal (Bowel) Incontinence. (2020).

Fecal Incontinence. (2022).

Incontinence. (n.d.).

Prevention of Bladder Control Problems (Urinary Incontinence) & Bladder Health. (2021).

Urinary Incontinence. (2020).  

Urinary Incontinence. (2021).     

Urinary Incontinence Overview. (n.d.).