Bladder control problems can be embarrassing and inconvenient. But in most cases, they can be treated or cured. At least one in 10 people over age 65 has problems with bladder control. Women are more likely to have such problems, as are older people. The condition is also known as "urinary incontinence."
Types of Problems
Not all bladder control problems are the same. Some are short term, as a result of taking certain drugs, having certain foods or drinks, or because of an infection.
There are different types of bladder control problems. Some people experience more than one kind at the same time. Understanding the types of problems will help you when you talk to your doctor.
- Urge incontinence. People with urge incontinence start to lose urine as soon as they sense a strong need to use the toilet. With urge incontinence, you leak urine when you can't get to the bathroom quickly enough, after drinking only a small amount, or when you see or hear running water (from the tap or a flushing toilet, for instance). You may feel the urge to go to the bathroom every two hours, day and night. You may wet the bed.
- Stress incontinence. Those with stress incontinence lose urine when they exercise (including walking) or move in a certain way. Sneezing, coughing or laughing may cause urine to leak. Rising from a chair or getting out of bed can cause a problem. You may use the bathroom often to avoid accidents. This is the most common type of bladder control problem in women and not usually seen in men.
- Overflow incontinence. A person with overflow incontinence feels like the bladder is never totally empty, even after urinating. With overflow incontinence, you probably lose small amounts of urine during the day and night and wake up to go to the bathroom several times a night. You might spend an unusually long time using the toilet but can produce only a weak, dribbling stream of urine.
- Functional incontinence. This condition stems from problems with thinking, moving or communicating, which prevent a person from reaching a toilet in time. The Alzheimer's patient, for instance, may be incapable of planning a trip to the bathroom. A wheelchair user may not be able to get the wheelchair into the bathroom.
National Association for Continence. Urge urinary incontinence/overactive bladder. Accessed August 6, 2008. Available at
National Institute on Aging. Urinary incontinence. Accessed August 6, 2008. Available at
National Kidney & Urologic Diseases Information Clearing House. Your urinary system and how it works. Accessed August 6, 2008. Available at