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What is Urinary Incontinence (UI)?

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UI is the loss of bladder control, or being unable to control urination.

UI can affect men, women, and children, but women are twice as likely as men to experience UI.1 This is due to the structure of the female urinary tract as well as the effects of pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause. UI is also more common among older women, although it is not a normal part of the aging process.

Adults may experience one of several types of UI1,2

  • Stress incontinence is usually related to a structural issue, such as when the bladder is out of its normal position. Urine leaks can occur during physical movement such as laughing, coughing, exercising, or lifting, or when no movement is occurring.
  • Urge incontinence or overactive bladder is usually related to the muscles around the bladder. It occurs when urine leaks at unexpected times, including during sleep. Urge incontinence is most common in older people and may or may not be a sign of a UTI. It is also associated with certain neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis.
  • Overflow incontinence happens when an overfilled bladder causes uncontrollable leaking of urine. A person with overflow incontinence may feel unable to completely empty the bladder. Causes include tumors, kidney stones, diabetes, and medications. Overflow incontinence is most common in men.
  • Functional incontinence is the inability to get to the bathroom in time because of a physical or other type of disability.
  • Mixed incontinence occurs when a person experiences more than one type of incontinence. Generally, mixed incontinence refers to a combination of stress and urge incontinence.
  • Transient incontinence occurs when urine leakage is caused by a temporary situation such as an infection or new medication. Once the cause is removed, the incontinence goes away.

For information about UI in men, visit http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/uimen/index.aspx.

For information about UI in children, visit http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/uichildren/index.aspx.


  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2010). Urinary incontinence in women. Retrieved August 15, 2012, from http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/uiwomen/ [top]
  2. FamilyDoctor.org. (2010). Urinary incontinence. Retrieved May 21, 2012, from http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/urinary-incontinence.printerview.all.html External Web Site Policy [top]

Last Updated Date: 06/27/2013
Last Reviewed Date: 04/12/2013
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