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.
Incontinence must not be a source of embarrassment when you speak with your physician. The fact is that this common condition is treatable by a variety of approaches, and not speaking up about the problem means that you won't have access to effective treatments. Dietary changes, medications, vaginal supportive devices, biofeedback, nerve stimulation, injections to thicken the pelvic tissues, and surgery are all possible treatment options, depending upon the exact type and severity of the incontinence. Absorbent pads and undergarments are also available for those who are concerned that the problem may manifest when they are away from home.
"Urinary Incontinence in Women." National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC). 2 Sept. 2010. <http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/uiwomen/>.
Buckley, Brian S., and Marie Carmela M. Lapitan. "Prevalence of Urinary Incontinence in Men, Women, and Children--Current Evidence: Findings of the Fourth International Consultation on Incontinence." Urology 76.2 (2010), 265-270.
Quick GuideUrinary Incontinence in Women: Bladder Control and More With Pictures
Daily Health News
Women's Health Resources
Subscribe to MedicineNet's Women's Health Newsletter