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Conditions InDepth: Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the loss of voluntary bladder control causing leakage of urine. This temporary or chronic condition has multiple mechanisms and many causes. Each cause has its own methods of diagnosis and its own treatment plan.

The Bladder
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Urinary bladder function is a careful balance between pressure from the bladder to empty and resistance from the sphincter (valve) at its outlet. Pressure to empty increases suddenly when the bladder reaches a certain volume.

Sphincter resistance depends not only on the strength of the muscle but also on its position. Both forces are controlled mostly by your autonomic (automatic) nervous system, the same system that regulates body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion. However, you do have control over the sphincter and can strengthen it with exercise.

The Female Urinary System
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Urinary incontinence is common, but treatable.

What are the causes of incontinence?What are the risk factors for urinary incontinence?What are the symptoms of urinary incontinence?How is urinary incontinence diagnosed?What are the treatments for urinary incontinence?Are there screening tests for urinary incontinence?How can I reduce my risk of urinary incontinence?What questions should I ask my doctor?What is it like to live with urinary incontinence?Where can I get more information about urinary incontinence?

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD
  • Review Date: 05/2017 -
  • Update Date: 12/20/2014 -
  • Urinary incontinence. National Association for Continence website. Available at: https://www.nafc.org/urinary-incontinence. Accessed May 19, 2017.

  • Urinary incontinence in men. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900624/Urinary-incontinence-in-men. Updated December 13, 2016. Accessed May 17, 2017.

  • Urinary incontinence in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900573/Urinary-incontinence-in-women. Updated May 15, 2017. Accessed May 19, 2017