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Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence — the loss of bladder control — affects more than 12 million Americans. While it occurs more frequently in older adults, it can happen to men and women of any age.

There are three main types of urinary incontinence:

  • Stress incontinence, the most common type, refers to the leakage of urine during exercise, coughing, sneezing, laughing or body movements that put pressure on the bladder.
  • Urge incontinence, the inability to hold urine long enough to reach a bathroom, often affects people with conditions such as diabetes, stroke, Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.
  • Overflow incontinence, when the bladder overflows, often happens when bladder weakness or a blocked urethra prevents normal emptying. An enlarged prostate can cause blockage, making this more common in men.

What causes urinary incontinence?

Possible causes of urinary incontinence include the following:

  • Weakened pelvic muscles as a result of childbirth
  • Miscommunication between the brain and bladder (common with neurological disorders, such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis)
  • An enlarged prostate gland or a prostate gland affected by surgery
  • Cancerous or noncancerous growths in the bladder
  • Thinning and drying of the skin in the vagina and urethra that can occur during menopause
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Lifestyle issues that may aggravate the bladder, such as drinking too much water, consuming caffeine and eating spicy foods

How can I get help for urinary incontinence?

If you have urinary incontinence, tell your doctor right away.

Before determining a treatment plan, doctors at Rush will find the problem’s source. This process might involve one or more of the following:

  • Obtaining a thorough medical history
  • Doing a urinalysis (an analysis of the contents of your urine)
  • Performing an ultrasound to determine if the bladder empties completely
  • Using a cystoscope, a tube with a small camera, to get a closer look at the bladder (this is called a cystoscopy)
  • Measuring bladder pressure with a test known as urodynamics

Care for urinary incontinence at Rush

Depending on the severity of your problem and its underlying causes, your treatment at Rush might involve one or more of the following:

  • Timed voiding, in which patients use the clock, rather than their bodies, to tell them when to urinate
  • Pelvic floor muscle exercises, called Kegel exercises, which can be learned with the aid of a physical therapist or urologist
  • Electrical stimulation procedures to strengthen women’s pelvic floor muscles
  • Injection of substances, such as collagen, to keep the sphincter muscles closed and stop urine from leaking
  • Slings surgically inserted around the urethra to lift it into a normal position and exert pressure on it to help with urine retention
  • Artificial sphincters, which fit around the neck of the bladder to keep the urinary sphincter shut tight until it’s time to urinate, at which point patients push a button located under the skin

Why choose Rush for urinary incontinence care

  • Urologists at Rush are part of a urology program ranked among the best in the country by U.S. News and World Report.
  • Rush has a program for abdominal and pelvic health problems that can address the full spectrum of issues related to pelvic pain. The program has a coordinator who will help you navigate the multiple specialists you might need to see to find relief.

Departments and programs that treat this condition