Urinary Incontinence: More Common Than You Think

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Urinary incontinence is the involuntary and unintentional leaking of urine. Urinary incontinence can also be an embarrassing problem. As with many potentially embarrassing or uncomfortable symptoms, those affected may be hesitant to speak up or ask questions about their condition, even at the doctor's office. Urinary incontinence occurs more often in women than in men, and it is a lot more common than you might expect. In fact, chances are that you know other people who have been affected by urinary incontinence.

A 2010 summary of research studies presented at an international meeting of doctors who study incontinence illustrates just how common this condition can be. In particular, studies showed that some degree of urinary incontinence was reported by 25%-45% of women. While urinary incontinence becomes more common with age, 7%-37% of women aged 20-39 reported experiencing some degree of incontinence. Having incontinence on a daily basis was noted by 9% to 39% of women over 60. The prevalence of incontinence in men was reported to be approximately half that in women, with 11%-34% of older men reporting symptoms of incontinence.

There are many different types of incontinence, depending upon the reason for the problem. Abnormalities in bladder function can cause so-called urge incontinence, thought to be related to abnormal contractions of the bladder muscle. Damage to or weakening of the pelvic structures and muscles (which commonly occurs during or after pregnancy) can cause stress incontinence, in which urine leaks during coughing, laughing, or other movements that put stress on the bladder. Other types of incontinence can develop if the bladder cannot empty properly or if the nerves that control the bladder are damaged. It's also possible to have a mixture of more than one type of incontinence. For example, the combination of stress and urge incontinence is not unusual in women.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/1/2014

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