Urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine. It may cause social or hygiene problems. It is not a disease but rather a symptom of a problem with the urinary tract. Although it is more common in older adults than in younger adults, it is not considered a normal part of the aging process.

An adult may lose the ability to control his or her bladder or bowels for many reasons. The loss of control may be temporary or permanent, depending on the reason for the loss of control. These reasons include:

  • Damage, weakness, or malfunction of the urinary tract or the nerves that control it.
  • Damage, weakness, or malfunction of the bowel or rectum.
  • Diseases of the nervous system.
  • Impaired mental function.
  • Kidney stones.
  • Medications.
  • Pelvic muscle weakness.
  • Physical problems, such as arthritis, which may interfere with the ability to get to the bathroom on time.
  • Spinal cord injuries.

Uncontrollable leakage of urine may also be caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI). Treating the UTI usually will cure this problem.

Call your health professional if urinary incontinence occurs suddenly without other urinary symptoms. Nerve-related changes or spinal cord problems may cause a sudden change in your ability to control the release of urine.

Last Updated: August 1, 2008

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