What is incontinence?

The easy answer is that it’s the inability of a person to control their bladder. However incontinence is much more complex than this, there are actually many different types of incontinence that have different effects and call for varying levels of treatment. It is very important to make the distinction between these different levels and types of incontinence issues, this ensures the best possible approach is taken towards the management and treatment of the issue. 

The three main types of incontinence are stress incontinence, urge incontinence and overflow incontinence

Stress Incontinence

Stress incontinence is the most common type of incontinence. It can be defined as a small amount of urine leakage during events that increase pressure inside the abdomen and push down on the bladder. During physical exercise, the pressure inside your abdomen increases and this pressure can cause small amounts of urine leakage. Physical exercise, however, isn’t the only activity that can cause stress incontinence. Less strenuous activities such as coughing, sneezing or laughing causes pressure to build inside your abdomen and result in small amounts of urine leakage. 

Urge Incontinence

Sometimes referred to as unstable or overactive bladder, urge incontinence is the sudden and strong need to urinate. The bladder muscles remain relaxed as the bladder gradually fills up. In normal functioning bladders, the feeling of wanting to go to the toilet and pass urine happens when the bladder is around half full. For the majority of people, they are able to hold on after this initial feeling and can use the bathroom when a suitable time arises. With urge incontinence, the bladder appears to feel much fuller than it actually is. What this means is that you will feel as though you have to go to the bathroom much more frequently. Not only does this mean you make more trips to the bathroom but the feeling of a full bladder can also cause light leakages of urine before you make it to the bathroom, or even after you have used the bathroom.

Overflow Incontinence

Overflow incontinence is when the bladder is unable to properly empty itself and as a result small leakages of urine frequently occur. The feeling that you need to strain to pass urine, weak or slow urine streams and passing urine while asleep can all be tell-tale signs that your bladder may not be completely empty. Overflow incontinence is one of the least common types of incontinence and mainly seems to affect men.


While there are three main types of incontinence, some people may have blended continence issues where they suffer from one or more types of incontinence to varying degrees. It’s important to understand the different types of incontinence as advice and treatment varies depending on the type of incontinence issues you suffer from.

Incontinence isn’t a one shoe fits all approach, if you do believe your suffering from incontinence it’s recommended that you see your doctor and get yourself professionally diagnosed by a trained professional. 

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