Urinary incontinence – symptoms, causes and other risk factors

Urinary incontinence symptoms and causes

Urinary incontinence is a loss of bladder control. This is a very common condition which can be embarrassing. The severity of it ranges from occasionally leaking urine when you sneeze or cough to having an urge to urinate that is so strong and sudden you do not get to a toilet in time. This condition is happening more often as people are getting older, but the urinary incontinence is not an inevitable consequence of aging [1]. If you have noticed that urinary incontinence is making problems in your daily life, then you should visit your doctor as soon as possible. For most people, medical treatment or simple lifestyle changes, can ease or stop the urinary incontinence.

Symptoms of urinary incontinence

There are many people who experience minor and occasional leaks of urine. Other people can lose small to moderate amounts of urine more frequently. When you have urinary incontinence, then this means you pass urine unintentionally. How and when this happens, depends on the type of urinary incontinence that you have.

Types of urinary incontinence: Here are types of urinary incontinence:

  • Functional incontinence: A mental or physical impairment keeps you from making it to the toilet in time. If you have severe arthritis, then you may not be able to unbutton your pants very quickly.
  • Overflow incontinence: You experience constant or frequent dribbling of urine due to a bladder that does not empty completely.
  • Urge incontinence: In this type of urinary incontinence, you have a sudden and intense urge to urinate followed by an involuntary loss of urine. You may need to urinate more often, including throughout the night. This type of urinary incontinence can be caused by a minor condition, such as infection or more severe condition such as diabetes or neurological disorder.
  • Stress incontinence: When you have this type or urinary incontinence, then th urine leaks when you exert pressure on your bladder by laughing, sneezing, coughing, lifting something heavy or exercising.
  • Mixed incontinence: In this type of urine incontinence, you experience more than one type of urinary incontinence.

Urinary incontinence symptoms and causes

Causes for urinary incontinence

This condition is not a disease, it is a symptom. It can be caused by physical problems, underlying medical conditions and everyday habits. Your doctor will make a thorough evaluation to determine which the cause for your urinary incontinence is.

  1. Temporary urinary incontinence: There are certain foods, drinks and medications which can act as diuretic [2]. They are stimulating your bladder and increasing the volume of your urine. They include:
  • Large doses of Vitamin C
  • Heart and blood pressure medications, sedatives and muscle relaxants
  • Foods that are high in spice, sugar or acid, especially citrus fruits
  • Chili peppers
  • Chocolate
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Carbonated drinks and sparkling water
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol

The temporary urinary incontinence can be also caused by an easily treatable medical condition such as

  • Constipation: The rectum is located near your bladder and it can share many of the same nerves. Hard and compacted stool in your rectum can cause your nerves to be overactive and to increase the urinary frequency. [3]
  • Urinary tract infection: Infections can irritate our bladder and they can cause us to have urges to urinate and sometimes incontinence.
  1. Persistent incontinence: It is known that the urinary incontinence can be also persistent which can be caused by underlying changes or physical problems such as
  • Neurological disorders: A spinal injury, a brain tumor, a stroke, Parkinson’s disease and Multiple sclerosis can interfere with the nerve signals that are involved in bladder control, causing urinary incontinence. [4]
  • Pregnancy: The increased weight of the fetus and hormonal changes can lead to stress incontinence. [5,6]
  • Obstruction: A tumor which is anywhere in the urinary tract can block the normal flow of urine which could lead to urinary incontinence. Urinary stones, which are hard and stone – like masses that are formed in the bladder, in some cases can cause urine leakage.
  • Childbirth: Vaginal delivery can weaken the muscles that are needed for the bladder control and also can be damaged supportive tissue and bladder nerves which are leading to a dropped (prolapsed) pelvic floor. With prolapse, the small intestine, rectum or the bladder can get pushed down from the usual position and protrude into the vagina. Such protrusions can be associated with urinary incontinence. [6]


[1] Sohn K, Lee CK, Shin J, Lee J. Association between female urinary incontinence and geriatric health problems: Results from Korean longitudinal study of ageing (2006). Korean Journal of Family Medicine. 2018;39(1):10–14.

[2] Ekundayo OJ. The association between overactive bladder and diuretic use in the elderly. Current Urology Reports. 2009;10:434-40.

[3] Nurko S, Scott SM. Coexistence of constipation and incontinence in children and adults. Best Practice & Research: Clinical Gastroenterology. 2011;25(1):29–41.

[4] Fowler CJ. Neurological disorders of micturition and their treatment. Brain. 1999;122(7):1213-31.

[5] Sangsawang B, Sangsawang N. Stress urinary incontinence in pregnant women: a review of prevalence, pathophysiology, and treatment. International Urogynecology Journal. 2013;24(6):901–12.

[6] National Institutes of Health. Urinary incontinence. Retrieved from orwh.od.nih.gov/research/maternal-morbidity-and-mortality/information-for-women/urinary-incontinence


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.