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Understanding urinary incontinence in adults

Old couple sitting on sofa

Becoming incontinent as an adult can be distressing and disorientating, especially if you don’t know much about it. Read on to find out what incontinence is and learn about the different types of urinary incontinence.


Incontinence definition

The NHS defines incontinence as the unintentional passing of urine . It’s a common problem thought to affect millions of people. There are several different types of involuntary urine leakage including: 

  • Stress urinary incontinence
  • Urge urinary incontinence
  • Mixed urinary incontinence
  • Overflow urinary incontinence
  • Neurological bladder disorder
  • Post-micturition dribble
  • Functional urinary incontinence

What is incontinence?

Trying to understand just what urinary incontinence is can be confusing. There are different types of incontinence with similar sounding symptoms, as well as some difficult terminology that can be hard to understand at first glance. All of this can lead to negative emotions in those affected by incontinence, and even mental health issues. If you’re struggling then it can be helpful to try talking about incontinence and seeking help with a friend, family or medical professional.

If you suspect that you may be suffering from incontinence or bladder issues in general, we recommend consulting a doctor. They can make an in-depth diagnosis by finding out more about your symptoms, and recommend treatment to improve your condition. 

Below, you’ll find clear descriptions of the different types of urinary and bladder incontinence as well as their symptoms and causes. When you know which type of incontinence you have, you’ll have a greater understanding of how to better manage and treat it.


Different types of adult urinary incontinence

Stress urinary incontinence 

Stress urinary incontinence causes you to leak urine when exerting yourself - for example, when coughing sneezing or laughing. Among women, stress urinary incontinence is the most common type, however it is rare among men.

Read more about stress incontinence here

Urge urinary incontinence

As its name suggests, urge urinary continence describes incontinence problems connected with a sudden urge to urinate. The amount of urine leaked varies from small dribbles to a complete emptying of the bladder. Urge urinary continence has different causes. These can be an enlarged prostate, a urinary tract infection or simply taking in too many fluids. Because of the wide variation in potential causes, a proper diagnosis from a healthcare professional is recommended.

Read more about urge incontinence here

Mixed urinary incontinence

Mixed urinary incontinence is a combination of both stress urinary incontinence and urge urinary incontinence. In other words, it means you can have leaks both connected with urgency and when exerting yourself as described above.

Overflow urinary incontinence

This occurs when the bladder cannot empty completely. Each time the person affected urinates, a small amount is left in the bladder and because of this, it gradually fills with residual urine. The most common cause for overflow urinary incontinence is an obstruction of the urethra - due to an enlarged prostate for example. A bladder muscle that cannot contract to empty can also be the source of the problem, something that can be related to diabetes neuropathy for example.

Read more about overflow incontinence

Neurological Bladder Disorder

This describes damage to the brain, spinal cord, or nerves leading to incontinence or bladder or urination problems. Neurological bladder disorder can affect patients who suffer from damages caused by trauma, stroke, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

Read more about neurogenic bladder disorder

Post-micturition dribble

Post-micturition dribble is the involuntary loss of urine shortly after a toilet visit. The person affected has often left the toilet when this happens. It occurs due to urine remaining in the urethra. The problem is more common among men and can sometimes be avoided by pressing forward on the perineum to evacuate the remaining urine. It can also affect women who have poor muscle support for the urethra.

Read more about post-micturition dribble

Functional urinary incontinence

This means that you cannot reach the toilet in time due to some sort of physical impairment related to age, disability or living environment. It might occur because of difficulty removing clothing or being unable to move from a wheelchair to a toilet quickly enough. Other causes include impaired vision, lowered cognitive function or even physical environmental barriers such as the toilet being too far away, a badly lit route to the toilet or a light switch that is not easy to find or reach.

Read more about functional incontinence

Is incontinence or bladder weakness having a negative impact on your quality of life? If so, we recommend you consult a healthcare professional – in the meantime, reading our articles about incontinence may be of some help.