Urinary incontinence happens when you lose control of your bladder. In some cases, you may empty your bladder’s contents completely. In other cases, you may experience only minor leakage. The condition may be temporary or chronic, depending on its cause.

According to the Urology Care Foundation, millions of adults in the United States experience urinary incontinence. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it’s more common among women age 50 and over. However, this condition can affect anyone.

As you age, the muscles supporting your bladder tend to weaken, which can lead to urinary incontinence.

Many different health problems can also cause the condition. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can be a sign of cancer, kidney stones, infection, or an enlarged prostate.

If you experience urinary incontinence, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Urinary incontinence can interfere with your daily life and lead to potential accidents. Your healthcare provider can also determine if a more serious medical condition is the cause.

Urinary incontinence is divided into three general types. You can potentially experience more than one type at the same time.

Stress incontinence

Stress incontinence is triggered by certain types of physical activity.

For example, you might lose control of your bladder when you’re:

  • exercising
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • laughing

Such activities put stress on the sphincter muscle that holds urine in your bladder. The added stress can cause the muscle to release urine.

Urge incontinence

Urge incontinence occurs when you lose control of your bladder after experiencing a sudden and strong urge to urinate. Once that urge hits, you may not be able to make it to the bathroom in.

Overflow incontinence

Overflow incontinence can occur if you don’t completely empty your bladder when you urinate. Later, some of the remaining urine may leak from your bladder. This type of incontinence is sometimes called “dribbling.”

There are many potential causes of urinary incontinence.

Examples include:

Some of these conditions are easily treatable and only cause temporary urinary problems. Others are more serious and persistent.

Aging

As you get older, the muscles supporting your bladder typically become weaker, which raises your risk for incontinence.

To maintain strong muscles and a healthy bladder, it’s important to practice healthy lifestyle habits. The healthier you are, the better your chances of avoiding incontinence as you age.

Damage

Your pelvic floor muscles support your bladder. Damage to these muscles can cause incontinence. It can be caused by certain types of surgery, such as a hysterectomy. It’s also a common result of pregnancy and childbirth.

Enlarged prostate

If you’re male, your prostate gland surrounds the neck of your bladder. This gland releases fluid that protects and nourishes your sperm. It tends to enlarge with age. It’s common for males to experience some incontinence as a result.

Cancer

Prostate or bladder cancer can cause incontinence. In some cases, treatments for cancer can also make it harder for you to control your bladder. Even benign tumors can cause incontinence by blocking your flow of urine.

Other potential causes

Other potential causes of incontinence include:

Some lifestyle factors can also cause temporary bouts of incontinence. For example, drinking too much alcohol, caffeinated beverages, or other fluids can cause you to temporarily lose control of your bladder.

Any instance of incontinence is reason to seek medical help. It may be a symptom of a more serious condition that needs to be treated.

Even if the underlying cause isn’t serious, incontinence can be a major disruption in your life. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis and discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider.

In some cases, incontinence is a sign of a medical emergency.

You should seek immediate medical attention if you lose control of your bladder and experience any of the following symptoms:

During your appointment, your healthcare provider will likely ask questions about your symptoms. They’ll probably want to know how long you’ve been incontinent, which types of incontinence you’ve experienced, and other details.

They may also ask about your daily habits, including your typical diet and any medications or supplements that you take.

Depending on your symptoms and medical history, your healthcare provider may order additional tests, including:

  • Collecting a sample of urine for analysis. Laboratory staff can check the urine sample for signs of infection or other problems.
  • Measuring the amount of urine that you release when urinating, the amount left over in your bladder, and the pressure in your bladder. This information is gathered by inserting a catheter, or a small tube, into your urethra and your bladder.
  • Conducting a cystoscopy. During this test, they’ll insert a small camera into your bladder to examine it up close.

Your healthcare provider’s recommended treatment plan will depend on the cause of your incontinence. An underlying medical condition may require medication, surgery, or other treatments.

You may also be encouraged to do certain exercises, such as pelvic floor exercises or bladder training, which can help to increase your bladder control.

In certain situations, your healthcare provider may not be able to cure your bladder incontinence. In these cases, there are steps you can take to manage your condition.

For example, your healthcare provider may advise you to:

You can’t prevent all cases of urinary incontinence, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing it. Living a healthy lifestyle is key.

For example, try to: