What causes urinary incontinence?

Written by: Mr Sachin Malde
Published: | Updated: 29/11/2018
Edited by: Jay Staniland

Urinary incontinence is the involuntary or uncontrollable leakage of urine, and can happen for different reasons. There are two broad types of urinary incontinence. One is what we call urgency incontinence and is the leakage of urine when you have a sudden urge to pass urine which you can’t control. The other type of incontinence is called stress urinary incontinence. This type of incontinence is more commonly seen in women and typically happens after childbirth. This is the type of incontinence that happens when you're moving or physically active or when you’re coughing, sneezing, or laughing.

Urinary incontinence is a very common condition and affects millions of people worldwide. Lots of studies have shown that it affects anywhere between 10 to 15% of all people. It’s commonly thought of as a condition of women only but in fact, it’s common in men, women and children.


What causes urinary incontinence?


Urgency incontinence


Urinary incontinence can be caused by a number of different things and depends on the type of incontinence that is being referred to. Urgency incontinence which is the involuntary leakage of urine when you have a sudden urge to pass urine, can often be caused by a number of conditions that affect the bladder.

It’s important that you have your bladder checked if you have symptoms of passing urine very frequently, going to pass urine at night time, or having leakage of urine because you can’t control the urge.

The most common causes are things like urinary tract infections, diabetes, and in men we commonly see enlarged prostates that can cause these overactive bladder symptoms. A lot of the time, we don't know what causes the incontinence.

Sometimes people can have problems with the nerves supplying the bladder. Things such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease can also cause these kinds of overactive bladder symptoms. Very rarely, people can have abnormalities inside the bladder such as cancers or stones which can trigger these symptoms so it’s very important if you have symptoms of urgency incontinence or passing urine very frequently, that you have a full evaluation by a urologist.


Stress incontinence


Stress incontinence which is the leakage of urine when coughing or any physical movement is most commonly caused by childbirth. The higher the number of children a woman has had, the higher the risk of weakness of the pelvic floor muscles which can lead to incontinence.

There are other things that can cause stress incontinence. We know that increasing age, being post-menopausal and being overweight can also increase your risk of having leakage of urine on any physical movement.


Urinary incontinence in men


In men, urinary incontinence can also result after surgery for any kind of treatment on your prostate, either enlarged prostate or prostate cancer. They can again, lead to symptoms of leakage of urine on coughing, sneezing or moving. If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to have this checked as there are a number of underlying potential causes and there are lots of treatments that can really improve your quality of life.

Click here to learn about the treatment options available for urinary incontinence.

By Mr Sachin Malde

Mr Sachin Malde is a well-regarded and highly trained Consultant Urological Surgeon based at the renowned Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London. Mr Malde qualified from the biggest healthcare training facility in Europe, the historic Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ School of Medicine in London, before completing his urology training. He is an expert in the management of urological problems and has specialist interests in bladder cancer, incontinence, urinary infections, bladder problems and prostate diseases. He completed his fellowship training at University College Hospital in London, where he was given an award for his research into incontinence. Mr Malde is keen to offer the most up-to-date treatments and is one of only a handful of urologists performing sacral nerve stimulation for bladder conditions. Enthusiastic about education and the academic side of medicine, he has tutored and lectured nationally and internationally, and has published widely in peer-reviewed journals. Mr Malde is a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and is a member of the British Association of Urological Surgeons. He is also a member of the European Association of Urology where he sits on the Guidelines panel for male urinary symptoms.

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