Which One is it? – Types of Incontinence

People usually think that incontinence is a term for involuntary urination and defecation. In fact, incontinence is a bit more complex than that. There are different forms of incontinence, and retention of urine and/or feces is also a form of incontinence. According to the technical terms, incontinence is “the inability of the body to control the evacuative functions of urination and defecation”. Here are the different types of incontinence.

Stress Incontinence

Stress Incontinence

This type of incontinence is also called “giggle” incontinence and is usually seen in women. This urine leakage is caused by the pressure on the bladder from the abdominal muscles. This is the most common form of incontinence among women. An estimated 15 million women in the United States are affected, according to the National Association for Continence (NAFC). Generally, the urinary sphincter, the “valve” at the bladder neck controls urine flow. During this type of incontinence this valve allows a small amount of urine to pass when the person coughs, sneezes, laughs, strains (as when lifting a heavy object) or simply bends over. Stress incontinence is generally caused by the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles that control the outflow of urine by things such as childbirth, neurological disorder, side effects of surgeries or injuries.

Urge Incontinence

Urge Incontinence

This occurs when the urge to urinate is felt and you have to go immediately! Urge incontinence can result in a small loss of urine or a full flood of a large volume of the bladder contents depending on the strength of the pelvic muscles. This type of incontinence is also caused by strong contractions of the bladder (detruser muscle), also called “bladder spasms”. The symptoms can be as simple as a strong urge to urinate to severe or debilitating pain when the cramping hits, with a sudden loss of bladder control. This can be caused by bladder infections, neurological damage, injury or other diseases of the bladder.

Functional Incontinence

Functional Incontinence

This type of incontinence is also referred to as “reflex” incontinence, as it involves urination without the awareness that the bladder needs to be emptied or the ability to control urination. The bladder fills to a certain point and a reflex causes it to automatically empty without any action or control on the part of the individual. The bladder may empty completely or may retain some urine.

Functional incontinence can be caused by spinal cord injury (usually above the T10 level), neurological disorder, complications from surgery, cognitive disorder (autism, developmental disability, etc.) and other causes.

Overflow Incontinence

Overflow Incontinence

Overflow incontinence is the true to its name. The bladder gets filled to its complete limit and the pressure from the full bladder is enough to push small amounts of urine past the urinary sphincter that then dribble out of the urethra. Usually overflow incontinence includes small amounts (or drizzling) of urine.

It can be caused by an enlarged prostate, neurological injury, physical injury or diseases of the bladder and/or urinary system.

Transient Incontinence

Transient Incontinence

Transient (temporary, reversible, or acute) incontinence is usually caused by an illness or a specific medical condition that is more or less short-lived and is, therefore, quickly remedied by appropriate treatment of the condition and disappearance of symptoms. People who have severe constipation, an irritated or inflamed bladder, urethra or vagina or those recovering from surgery or taking medication such as a diuretic or sleeping pill are more likely to suffer. This type of incontinence is a side effect of another medical issue or medication.

Mixed Incontinence

This type of incontinence is also true to its name. Incontinence can consist of any or all of the types listed above. This is usually the hardest to treat, as there are a NUMBER of causes and possible treatments.

Total Incontinence

It's the complete loss of urinary control. It affects people who have a vesicovaginal fistula or an abnormal connection between the urinary tract and the vagina. Also, people who have suffered spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis or another disorder that affects nerve function. What causes total incontinence? This can be a result of anatomic abnormalities or a severe injury.

Nocturnal Enuresis (Bedwetting)

This is problem that majorly occurs in children. Bedwetting is the uncontrolled act of urination during sleep in which the person may be completely unaware that urination is occurring. Nocturnal enuresis has a number of causes which include, childhood trauma, mental illness, inability of the body to produce a hormone called Anti-Diuretic Hormone which slows the production of urine at night, and many other causes.

Urinary Retention

This is an unusual case of urinary incontinence but nonetheless, urinary retention is the inability to pass urine due a blockage in the urethra, inability of the urinary sphincter or detruser (bladder) muscle to contract or even anxiety. Retention can cause urine to back up into the kidneys and also can cause overflow incontinence, but it depends on the situation. Urinary retention can be caused by an enlarged prostate, urethral stricture (narrowing), bladder or kidney stones blocking the urethra, neurological illness, spinal cord injury, physical injury to the bladder or urethra, mental health disorders and others.

Fecal Incontinence

In this type the person involuntary passes feces at inappropriate or unplanned times. Like bladder incontinence, bowel incontinence is caused by many issues such as abdominal or rectal injury, neurological disorder, spinal cord injury, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, constipation, diarrhea and cognitive disabilities. Bowel incontinence can come in some of the same forms as mentioned above.