Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, Questions & Related Topics

Possible Symptoms for Incontinence

Symptoms of incontinence may include:[1]

  • An urgent need to go to the bathroom
  • Needing use the bathroom often
  • Trouble holding in your urine
  • Bladder leaks

Top 4 Incontinence Causes

1. Weak pelvic floor muscles

Incontinence may develop if the muscles in your pelvis aren't strong enough to hold in urine. You may have difficulty keeping urine in your bladder until you can reach a restroom.

This type of incontinence is more common among women and is often linked to pregnancy or childbirth.[1] Vaginal childbirth can have an especially strong effect on your pelvic muscles. Many women find that their pelvic muscles are significantly weakened after giving birth.

If you have incontinence due to weak pelvic floor muscles, you may notice that urine sometimes escapes without warning. This may occur when you cough, sneeze, laugh or lift a heavy object.[1]

2. Overactive bladder muscles

An overactive bladder is a common form of incontinence that affects over 30% of men and women in the United States.[2] People with overactive bladder often feel an urgent need to go to the bathroom, even if there is little urine in their bladder. Overactive bladder muscles may also force you to get up several times during the night to use the bathroom.

The cause of overactive bladder can vary. Overactive bladder is linked to prostate problems in men. Among women, menopause is the primary cause of overactive bladder muscles.[2] However, overactive bladder can also be triggered by a variety of other health conditions. These conditions may cause your bladder muscles to empty your bladder without warning.

3. Nerve problems

The nerves in your body send messages between your brain to your bladder.[3] If these nerves don't work correctly, your brain might send signals that suggest your bladder is full, even when it isn't. In some, the brain may not receive messages that the bladder is full and needs to be emptied. If you wait too long between bathroom visits, some urine may leak out on its own.

Incontinence triggered by nerve problems is often caused by chronic health conditions. These conditions may include multiple sclerosis, Parkinson disease, and diabetes.[3]

4. Mobility issues

If you have trouble moving around, you may struggle with incontinence. This type of incontinence may have nothing to do with your bladder or pelvic muscles. Instead, your symptoms may be caused by putting off urination for too long.[1]

It's important to understand that delaying urination is not healthy. Holding your urine can increase your risk of urinary tract infections.[4] If you have trouble getting to the bathroom on your own, it's best to ask your doctor for guidance. 

Possible Health Conditions Related to Incontinence

Many different health conditions can cause changes in your bladder or bathroom habits. Common factors linked to incontinence include:[1]

  • Drinking too much water, alcohol, or caffeine
  • Obstructions in the urinary tract   
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Constipation
  • Hormonal changes

If you're a woman, your symptoms may be linked to problems with your pelvic floor muscles. Many women struggle with incontinence after giving birth.[1] Your OB/GYN or family physician can help you explore your treatment options.

If you're a man, your symptoms may be caused by problems with your prostate. The prostate is a small gland located between your bladder and penis. A healthy prostate is usually the size of a walnut, but sometimes your prostate may swell and cause problems with your bladder. This type of swelling may result from an infection or a tumor.[5]

It's important to report any new or worsening symptoms to your doctor. Most cases of incontinence are not linked to life-threatening medical issues, but in some cases, a tumor or serious infection may be to blame.

It may seem embarrassing to discuss your incontinence with your doctor, but it's essential to let your doctor know about any changes in your ability to hold your urine or use the bathroom independently. If your incontinence is caused by a medical problem, early diagnosis and treatment can help resolve your symptoms.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Incontinence

  • When did your symptoms start?
  • Does anything make your symptoms better or worse?
  • Do you experience any pain or burning when you urinate?
  • Do you ever experience a sudden, urgent need to urinate?
  • Have you ever given birth? Did you have a vaginal delivery?
  • Do you have trouble using the bathroom on your own?
  • Do your symptoms make it difficult to sleep through the night?

Incontinence May Also be Known as:

  • Urinary incontinence


  1. Mayo Clinic. Urinary incontinence: Symptoms & causes.
  2. Urology Care Foundation: Urinary incontinence.
  3. National Institute on Aging. Urinary incontinence in older adults.
  4. Healthline. Holding your pee: Is it safe?
  5. WebMD. Prostate gland.

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