Loading icon
Press enter or spacebar to select a desired language.
Health Information Center

Causes of Urinary Incontinence

  • Michael Jubinville, MPH
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Causes of Urinary Incontinence

There are many types of urinary incontinence. It can be a condition that lasts a short time or one that lasts longer. The causes vary based on the type. These are:


The most common causes include:

People should talk to their doctor about the medicines they take. If any of them are causing problems, the doctor may change them.

Longer Lasting Incontinence

Longer lasting (sometimes permanent) types of incontinence may be put into the groups below. Some people may have more than one type or cause. The cause is not always clear for some people.

Stress Incontinence

Stress incontinence happens when certain activities add more pressure on the bladder. Leaking can be triggered by laughing, sneezing, lifting heavy objects, or exercise. This is the most common type of incontinence. It may be caused by problems with:

  • Muscles that support the bladder
  • Sphincter muscles that control the flow of urine

Urge Incontinence

Urge incontinence is loss of bladder control after a strong urge to pass urine. Urine cannot be held long enough to get to a bathroom. This is also known as an overactive bladder. It may be caused by:

Overflow Incontinence

This type happens when the bladder is full. The pressure caused by an overfull bladder is more than the strength needed to hold in the urine. It may be caused by:

  • A blocked bladder—can happen from a scar in the tube that carries urine from the body
  • Thick, hard stool being stuck in the rectum—called fecal impaction
  • Certain medicines such as those that treat mental health problems, colds, allergies, or high blood pressure
  • Weak bladder muscles
  • Nerve damage because of:
    • Surgery
    • Diabetes
    • Spinal cord injury

When the nerves that carry messages to and from the bladder are absent, the bladder will empty when it reaches a certain volume. This is called a neurogenic bladder. People with this can learn how to drain urine at set times or with a catheter placed into the bladder.

Functional Incontinence

Any issue that slows a person down or confines them may result in loss of urine. It can happen when a person's bladder has no problems. This is called functional incontinence. It often happens with the other types. Some causes include:

  • Having problems moving around
  • Weak muscles
  • Not being able to find or get to a restroom
  • Dementia—changes how the brain works and how a person functions

Other Causes of Incontinence


A channel can open between the bladder and the outside of the body. This is not supposed to be there. It can be present from birth, or because of an injury or surgery. A fistula causes continuous, uncontrolled dribbling of urine. It can be fixed with surgery.


  • Definition & facts for bladder control problems (urinary incontinence). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-control-problems/definition-facts.
  • Urinary incontinence. Urology Care Foundation website. Available at: http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/u/urinary-incontinence.
  • Urinary incontinence in adults. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/genitourinary-disorders/voiding-disorders/urinary-incontinence-in-adults.
  • Urinary incontinence in men. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/urinary-incontinence-in-men-25.
  • Urinary incontinence in women. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/condition/urinary-incontinence-in-women.


  • Nicole S. Meregian, PA
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.