What is urinary incontinence?

Don’t worry if you don’t know the answer – you are not alone! Many people don’t know what the phrase means. The correct definition is the loss of urine when you don’t intend to, or having to go to the toilet so many times that it disrupts your day.

But basically, urinary incontinence (UI) is the involuntary release of urine at the wrong time and/or the wrong place. Don’t forget: it is a not a normal part of aging, it is a treatable condition, and you don’t have to deal with it on your own.

What are the causes?

There are many possible causes of urinary incontinence, bladder weakness or bladder problems, including:

Incontinence is not caused by:

The fact is, incontinence could be caused by something as simple as drinking too much liquid, to something more serious like a problem with your urinary tract or reproductive organs. To understand the science better, take a look at ‘Proper bladder function’ and ‘Proper bowel function‘.

What are the symptoms?

You can find out more detail about the symptoms of urinary incontinence here. But basically, the physical signs include the following:

What are the different types?

The type of urinary incontinence you suffer from depends on how and when you find yourself involuntarily urinating. See if you identify with any of the following:

  1. Do you sometimes urinate involuntarily when you exercise, cough, sneeze, lift a heavy object, or bend over?
    This is likely to be stress incontinence. It occurs when there is excess pressure on your bladder during certain activities.
    It is more common in females, but some men may develop it after prostate surgery.
  1. Do you sometimes have an intense urge to go to the bathroom to urinate? Does it feel like you only have a few seconds?
    You may have an overactive bladder (OAB), urge incontinence, or even both.
    OAB means you have an intense urge to go to the bathroom. When this is accompanied by actual urge incontinence, it means that you end up leaking urine without getting to the toilet on time. Please watch the following video https://youtu.be/8lzI330t0x4
  1. Did you answer yes to 1 and 2 above?
    Then it is likely that you have mixed incontinence: a combination of both urge and stress incontinence.
  1. Do you have an advanced neurological problem such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease or Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
    Then it is likely that you have functional incontinence. This is most common with older patients, whose underlying illness may not allow them to get to the toilet on time.
  1. Do you have a metabolic condition such as diabetes?
    The type of incontinence you have probably depends on the stage of your illness. In the early stages, you may experience urge or stress incontinence, but this can develop into functional incontinence over time.
  1. Do you constantly dribble urine or only release a small amount of urine at a time?
    Then it is likely that you have overflow incontinence. This occurs when the bladder is too full, often because it is not properly emptied when going to the toilet. You may not feel an urgent need to urinate.
  1. Do you wet the bed at night?
    The official term for this is nocturnal enuresis, and it can apply to both adults and children who have already been toilet trained.
  1. Aside from the urinary incontinence, do you also find you have lost some control of your bowel function?
    If so, you may have double incontinence, which is when you have both bladder and bowel incontinence. You can find more information about bowel (faecal) incontinence here.

What do other sufferers say about it?

Listening to the experiences of people like you is one of most effective ways to feel supported in your incontinence journey. Whether you are a patient or a carer, rest assured that there are people out there who have had the same doubts and worries that you have. Below you can find blog post testimonials that touch on a variety of urinary incontinence issues:

If you found these useful, take a look at the video testimonials in ‘Further resources’.

How can I get help?

In this section, you’ll find tools and advice on how to talk to your healthcare professional with a little more confidence. At the end of the day, it’s worth it when you consider how your life could change with an effective treatment.


Lee SH, Cho ST, Na HR, Ko SB, Park MH. Urinary incontinence in patients with Alzheimer’s disease: relationship between symptom status and urodynamic diagnoses. Int J Urol. 2014;21(7):683-687.

Bladder Dysfunction in Parkinson’s Disease [Internet]. 2017[ cited 29 July 2020]. Available from: https://parkinsonfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Bladder_DysfunctionPD-RandyStephenson.pdf.

Functional Incontinence[Internet]. 2019[ cited 29 July 2020]. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/urinary-incontinence-oab/functional-incontinence.

The Source [Internet]. 2018[cited 29 July 2020]. Available from: https://www.canadiancontinence.ca/pdfs/Source-2018/The-Source-2018-English.pdf.