Types of Incontinence

Brooke Phillips, CWCMS
Editor | Shield HealthCare
07/05/18  2:00 PM PST
Types of Incontinence

What is Incontinence?

Incontinence is partial or complete loss of bladder and/or bowel control. Incontinence is often a symptom of other medical issues, and sometimes it is the result of certain medications. Though rarely talked about, incontinence is common: it affects more than 25 million people in the United States, and one out of every three people will experience a loss of bladder control at some point in their lives.

Some types of incontinence are permanent, while others may only be temporary. Managing incontinence and gaining control over it begins with understanding why it happens. Speaking with your doctor about any incontinence episodes can help determine the cause and prompt a treatment plan to address it.

Below you will find seven types of incontinence, along with some commonly-used incontinence terms.

For more information about bowel incontinence, click here.


Seven Types of Incontinence:

1. Urge Incontinence.

Individuals with urge incontinence feel a sudden, intense urge to urinate. This can be caused by a number of different conditions, including strokes, cerebral vascular disease, brain injury, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

2. Stress Incontinence.

Individuals with stress incontinence lose urine when the bladder is pressured — or “stressed” — by internal abdominal pressure, such as coughing, laughing, sneezing, exercising or lifting something heavy. This usually happens when the sphincter muscle of the bladder has been weakened by anatomical changes, such as childbirth, aging, menopause, UTIs, radiation damage, or urological or prostate surgery.

3. Mixed Incontinence.

Mixed incontinence refers to an individual with more than one type of incontinence. The most common combination is stress and urge incontinence. Most women with incontinence have both stress and urge symptoms, and in men who have had prostate removal or surgery for an enlarged prostate. Older individuals of any gender are also susceptible to mixed incontinence.

4. Overflow Incontinence.

Individuals with overflow incontinence are unable to completely empty their bladder. This leads to a bladder that becomes so full that bladder muscles can no longer contract in a normal manner, and urine frequently overflows. Causes include an obstruction in the bladder or urethra, a damaged bladder, prostate gland problems, nerve damage from diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis or spinal cord injury.

5. Functional Incontinence.

Individuals with functional incontinence have a urinary system that works normally most of the time — they simply do not make it to the bathroom in time. Functional incontinence is frequently a result of physical or mental impairment. Causes may include severe arthritis, injury, muscle weakness, Alzheimer’s and depression, among others.

6. Iatrogenic Incontinence.

Iatrogenic incontinence is drug-induced incontinence. Some drugs, such as muscle relaxants and nervous system blockers, may result in weakening the sphincter muscle. Other drugs, such as antihistamines, may block the normal transmission of nerve impulses to and from the bladder.

7. Reflex Incontinence

Sometimes called “unaware” or “unconscious” incontinence, reflex incontinence is caused by nerve damage. In individuals with reflex incontinence, urine leaks without a warning or urge to urinate; the bladder simply contracts at the wrong time. This type of incontinence may be the result of health conditions such as multiple sclerosis or from trauma such as a spinal cord injury. While the causes of reflex incontinence are similar to those with urge incontinence, individuals with urge incontinence can feel the sudden urge to urinate. Individuals with reflex incontinence generally have no “urge” or sensation before a large loss of urine.


Other Incontinence Terms:

While the following terms are not types of incontinence, there are a handful of other terms you might hear online or from family or friends. Other terms you might hear include:

Total incontinence: This term refers to a total loss of urinary control, resulting in continuous urine loss throughout the day.

Transient incontinence: This term refers to incontinence that is triggered by temporary causes.


What Causes Incontinence?

Incontinence is a possible symptom of many different medical conditions, affecting everyone from children through seniors. Here are some common factors that can cause or contribute to incontinence:


  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Autism
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Cancer
  • Childbirth and Pregnancy
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes Mellitus
  • Diabetes Insipidus
  • Fistulas
  • Hirschsprung Disease
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Neurogenic Bladder
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Prolapse
  • Prostate Enlargement
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Stroke
  • Ulcerative Colitis


Some medications can contribute to incontinence. Talk to your doctor to find a solution if you are experiencing symptoms. Medications that may contribute to incontinence include:

  • Alpha-blockers
  • Cardura
  • Minipress
  • Hytrin
  • Doxazosin mesylate
  • Prazosin hydrochloride
  • Terazosin hydrochloride
  • Diuretics
  • Psychotropics
  • Laxatives
  • Steroids
  • ACE inhibitors
Recent Incontinence


  1. So I’m 42 years old and having problems with bad smell in urine.but it’s not from uti or food or diabetes had it now for 9 years but now its getting worse the smell so what can I do for this problem I’m having and thank you for you’re help

    1. Hi Alexander. Okay, so first up, we have an article called “Ways to Reduce Urine Odor” that you may find helpful. The Mayo Clinic also has information about urine odor. Considering you don’t think it’s from UTIs or your diet or diabetes, the next culprit we’d look at would be medications or vitamins. There are lists of each in both articles that may cause urine odor. Best of luck! -Aimee, Shield HealthCare

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