Top 6 Urinary Incontinence Causes
1. Weakened Pelvic Floor Muscles
The bladder and urethra are supported by the pelvic floor muscles. People with weakened pelvic floor muscles may frequently suffer from stress urinary incontinence, which is when the bladder leaks urine during exertion and certain physical activities. Sneezing, coughing, laughing, lifting heavy objects, jumping, and exercise are examples of activities that may cause stress urinary incontinence. Risk factors for weakened pelvic floor muscles include being overweight, childbirth, and the use of certain medications.
Alcohol works as a diuretic and can make the bladder fill more quickly than most other beverages. This can lead to a strong, frequent urge to urinate. Alcohol intoxication can also lead to urinary incontinence due to the way alcohol works as a sedative to relax the central nervous system and the nerves that control bladder function.
Urinary incontinence tends to be more common in older people, especially women. Older people generally exercise less frequently and have weakened bladder and pelvic floor muscles. Older people also tend to suffer from a higher number of medical conditions such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease for which urinary incontinence is a symptom. Arthritis doesn’t directly cause urinary incontinence but may prevent some people from making it to the bathroom on time.
Urinary incontinence is a side effect of many types of medications. Diuretics, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, and hormone replacement therapy are just some of the medications that have been linked to bladder leakage and urinary incontinence.
Excess weight puts extra pressure on the bladder and abdomen to increase the risk for urinary incontinence. Many people who are overweight or obese also tend to have low physical activity levels, which leads to weakened pelvic floor and bladder muscles.
Hysterectomy is the surgical removal of a woman’s uterus and surrounding organs such as the cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. Having a hysterectomy can damage the pelvic floor muscles to affect bladder control and cause urinary incontinence.
Possible Health Conditions Related to Urinary Incontinence
Urinary incontinence is common among those who have diabetes for a number of reasons. Having chronically high blood sugar levels can damage the nerves that control the bladder to cause urinary incontinence, and increase the risk for urinary tract infections that cause bladder leakage. High blood sugar levels also increase urination to cause urgent, frequent urination and incontinence. Some diabetes medications are found to contribute to urinary incontinence, as well as obesity.
2. Urinary Tract Infections
Problems with the urinary tract and urinary tract infections (UTIs) can often lead to loss of bladder control. UTIs can affect the bladder, kidneys, ureters, and urethra to cause a number of problems with urination such as abdominal cramping, a strong urge to urinate, painful urination, and urinary incontinence. Common risk factors for UTIs include diabetes, aging, enlarged prostate, and kidney stones.
During pregnancy, a growing fetus will push down and put excess pressure on the bladder, urethra, and pelvic floor muscles. This can gradually weaken the pelvic floor muscles to cause urinary incontinence. Labor and vaginal childbirth may also weaken pelvic floor muscles and damage the nerves that control the bladder to cause uncontrollable urination.
Menopause causes women to produce lower levels of estrogen, which may gradually cause the urethra to weaken. A weakened urethra can lead to loss of bladder control since the urethra helps keep urine in the bladder until it’s time to urinate. Older women who are going through menopause also tend to exercise less frequently than younger women and may have weakened pelvic floor muscles that contribute to bladder leakage.
5. Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is an immune system disease that damages nerves—including those that control bladder function. The urinary incontinence caused by multiple sclerosis is known as urge incontinence, which is when the bladder spasms or squeezes to release urine during a strong, sudden need to urinate. Urinary incontinence is highly prevalent among those who suffer from multiple sclerosis, particularly those who are disabled and/or female.
6. Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a gradual degeneration of the brain and central nervous system. Urinary incontinence is a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease due to the way messages from the brain to the bladder are often disrupted. People who suffer from this disease also tend to suffer frequent and strong urges to urinate during the day and night.
A stroke occurs when the blood supply is blocked to one or more parts of the brain. This can cause lasting brain damage, along with urinary incontinence if a stroke affects the part of the brain that sends signals to the bladder. Many people who suffer from stroke require palliative care due to the stress and burden of symptoms such as urinary incontinence.
8. Tumors and Cancer
Tumors and cancers that develop in the brain can disrupt signals to the bladder to cause urinary incontinence. Bladder cancer can also directly interfere with bladder function to cause urinary incontinence. Loss of bladder control is a common side effect of many cancer treatments including radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and surgery.
Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Urinary Incontinence
- When did you first start to experience urinary incontinence?
- What other symptoms do you experience?
- What triggers your urinary incontinence?
- How often do you experience urinary incontinence?
- Have you tried doing anything to prevent urinary incontinence?
- How often do you exercise?
- How often do you drink alcohol?
- Which medications and over-the-counter medicines are you currently using?
- Have you been diagnosed with diabetes or a urinary tract infection?
- Have you started to experience menopause symptoms?
Urinary Incontinence May Also be Known as:
- Stress incontinence
- Urge incontinence
- Overflow incontinence
- Mixed incontinence
- Weak bladder
- Bladder leakage
- Small bladder
- Loss of bladder control
- Overactive bladder
- Uncontrollable urination
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- National Institute on Aging. Urinary Incontinence in Older Adults. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/urinary-incontinence-older-adults
- National Library of Medicine. Drug-induced urinary incontinence. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18582143
- National Library of Medicine. Obesity and Urinary Incontinence: Epidemiology and Clinical Research Update. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866035/
- Office on Women’s Health. Urinary incontinence. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/urinary-incontinence
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- National Library of Medicine. Urinary tract dysfunction in Parkinson's disease: a review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21553114
- National Library of Medicine. A review of post-stroke urinary incontinence. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27347618
- National Library of Medicine. Symptomatic and Palliative Care for Stroke Survivors. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3378740/
- National Library of Medicine. Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms Secondary to Mass Lesion of the Brain: A Case Report and Review of the Literature. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4906126/
- National Cancer Institute. Urinary and Bladder Problems. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/urination-changes