Types of bladder weakness

There are a lot of different terms people use to describe bladder weakness, including: sensitive bladder, over-active bladder, and urine leaks. And there are a few more medical terms to describe the different types of bladder weakness. The symptoms described below should help you start to identify your type. 

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Do you leak when coughing, sneezing, laughing or doing heavy lifting?

This is Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) – usually shortened to Stress Incontinence. It is the most common type of female bladder weakness, and happens when the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder have become weakened. If we laugh or cough it increases the pressure on the bladder, and the pelvic floor muscles are unable to tighten enough to keep all the urine in. It is usually only small amounts but in some cases it can be more.

It is more common during pregnancy, after childbirth, and after the age of 40, yet it can happen to women of any age. In fact 1 in 4 women experiences stress urinary incontinence at some point in their lives, and around 40% of young women experience it when doing sport. Exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor can help, and you can find out more about them in the exercise area.

Do you experience sudden urges to urinate?

This is Urge Incontinence, often referred to as an over-active bladder. This is when you experience a sudden urge to urinate and the bladder involuntarily expels urine. There is usually little warning and moderate to large amounts of leakage. The average person empties their bladder between 4 and 8 times a day but, if you find that you need to urinate more frequently than you feel is usual for you, even perhaps waking several times during the night on a regular basis, this could be a symptom of Urge Incontinence.

The exact cause of this type of bladder weakness is not known but it’s thought that the bladder muscles send incorrect signals to the brain indicating that the bladder is fuller than it actually is. In certain cases you can ‘train’ your bladder not to do this and you’ll find advice on this in 'What you can do'. Most people manage the symptoms of urge incontinence with protective pads or underwear. TENA’s range of products offers discretion and security, so you can minimize the impact of Urge Incontinence and lead a full and active life. You’ll find information about our products and the opportunity to order free samples in the Product Information section.

Could you have mixed symptoms?

Some women experience Mixed Incontinence, which is usually a combination of Stress Incontinence and Urge Incontinence. If you have both types of bladder weakness you will usually find that one is more prominent than the other, so when you look at 'What you can do', you should focus on the symptom you experience most. When you feel you’ve achieved sufficient improvement, you can then concentrate on the other symptom.

Have you a physical or mental condition that makes it difficult for you to reach the toilet in time?

Another type of bladder weakness is the inability to reach the toilet in time because of the difficulties caused by a physical or mental illness – known as Functional Incontinence. The security and confidence you get from bladder weakness protection can help make this condition less stressful. For further advice find out what you can do.

Do you have a neurological illness or brain injury?

Illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis or accidental brain damage can interfere with the way the bladder and brain communicate leading to an inability to control the bladder or empty it completely. These are known as Neurological Bladder Disorders.

If you have not been able to determine your type of bladder weakness from the information above, we advise you to contact a healthcare professional for a personal assessment.