Incontinence - Causes and Types

Updated: Aug 26, 2019

Most cases of incontinence are treatable!

Urinary and bowel incontinence as well as bladder weakness is rarely life threatening. However, it will have a hugely negative impact on the suffers quality of life; often leading to depression, anxiety and social isolation. It can also significantly affect the lives of those around them.

There are many treatments available for incontinence, however only 60% of suffers seek treatment, and 50% of those continue to suffer from incontinence as a result of not wanting to return to their GP for further support when initial treatments fail.

There are many conservative and non-surgical medical options, to help treat the symptoms and the cause of the incontinence, before looking to a surgical solution. There are also a number of things that can be done to make it easier to live with incontinence, whilst the sufferer undergoes treatment.

Incontinence can be a precursor or symptom of a more dangerous condition. Therefore, please speak to your GP or other healthcare professional if you are suffering.

Causes of Incontinence

The bladder sits in the pelvis, supported by the pelvic floor muscles and surrounding ligaments, holding it in a naturally elevated position. The bladder constantly fills with urine, and can hold 1.5 - 2 cups before giving you the urge to urinate. The muscles around the bladder remain relaxed until you are able to reach a toilet, at which point they contract in coordination with the relaxation of your urethral sphincters (which are otherwise unconsciously contracted) to allow urine to flow out of your body in a steady stream.

Urinary incontinence (UI) can occur for a huge number of reasons, including;

  • if your kidneys produce more urine than normal

  • your urethra is blocked

  • your bladder or urethra experience nerve damage

  • you are psychologically unable to urinate when you feel the urge

  • urine is constantly present in the urethra stimulating the urge to go

  • you have inadvertently trained yourself to empty your bladder when it is not yet full

A GP or specialist will diagnose the type of UI you are suffering from by its causes and when it occurs. This leads to a specific treatment plan being developed, which looks to resolve issues permanently by amending your lifestyle alongside any conservative therapy's.

In some cases there may be an easily resolvable cause of your UI, such as a urine infection, which can be treated quickly.

As with most medical issues, the earlier you seek treatment, the quicker the resolution.

However, many men and women who suffer from a degree of UI do not report their symptoms to their doctor, whether for fear of embarrassment or being seen as inevitable with age or childbirth.

Consequently, although studies reveal that up to 55% of women suffer with urinary incontinence, it is suspected that the true figure is much higher.

Even though UI is rarely life threatening, it can be much more than an inconvenience, severely effecting your quality of life, and the life of those around you.

Types of Bowel Incontinence

Faecal Incontinence - When you uncontrollably pass gas, and leak liquid and/or solid faeces occasionally, or multiple times a day.

Flatus Bowel Incontinence - Is being unable to restrain the passing of wind. Frequently results from injury to less visible internal sphincter muscles during delivery. These muscles make the rectum a high-pressure area, giving you the ability to sense the presence of gas and appropriately control the passing of it.

Types of Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence (UI) can be diagnosed specifically, by the reason or event that leads to it occurring:

Coital UI - Urinating during sex due to pressure on the bladder.

Functional UI - When you are physically or mentally unable to go to the bathroom to empty your bladder.

Giggle UI (Laughter Leaks) - When you urinate as you giggle or laugh, as a result of relaxing your muscles.

Stress UI - The most common form of UI. As a result of a physical movement such as heavy lifting, exercise, sneezing or coughing. Women are more likely to experience stress UI than men.

Urge UI - Sudden and urgent desire to empty your bladder. Women are more likely to experience urge UI than men.

Mixed UI - When you suffer from both stress and urge incontinence.

Nocturia - Excessive night time urination; getting up more than twice a night to go to the bathroom.

Overactive Bladder (OAB) - Sudden urge to urinate which may be difficult to stop in time to reach a bathroom. Women are more likely to experience an OAB than men.

Overflow UI - Where you do not feel any urge to urinate and therefore your bladder overflows. Men are more likely to experience overflow UI than women.

Double Incontinence - Due to both bladder and bowel incontinence having many of the same causes, you can also experience double incontinence (also known as combined incontinence), where urine, stool and gas all involuntarily leak.


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