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Why You’re Experiencing Incontinence Matters

Though you might be focused on the fact that you’re experiencing incontinence, it’s important to know that there are different types of incontinence as well as different causes. Making an accurate diagnosis—finding out the “why”—is the first step toward managing the condition.

Stress incontinence results from weak pelvic floor muscles and/or a problem with the urethral sphincter. As a consequence, your bladder may leak when you put any kind of pressure on it. That could be when you're exercising or simply laughing or coughing. Both men and women can get stress incontinence—for women, the timing may coincide with menopause; for men, it may appear after certain types of prostate cancer treatment.

An overactive bladder is the urgent need to urinate many times during the course of a day and at night (that's what the term nocturnia means) and not being able to get to a toilet in time (when this happens overnight, it’s called enuresis, or simply bedwetting). This is often the result of damage to signals between the bladder and the brain. The leakage that results is called urge incontinence. Medical conditions including stroke, dementia, Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis can cause urge incontinence.

It’s possible to have both types of incontinence and symptoms of both stress and urge incontinence, as well as for one type to be more prevalent than the other.

Another type of incontinence is called chronic retention of urine. It sounds misleading because it doesn’t appear that you’re retaining liquid—the name means the leakage occurs because you produce more urine than your bladder can hold. Its causes include diabetes, pelvic problems in women, enlarged prostate in men, Parkinson’s, MS or even shingles.

Fecal incontinence is the inability to control stool, and it can occur to varying degrees.

For some people, getting to the bathroom in time could be due to mobility issues—not being able to walk or walk quickly enough or not being able remove clothes fast enough because of arthritis in your hands, for instance. Daily living aids and mobility devices may be all you need in that situation.