Urge incontinence occurs when you have a sudden urge to
urinate. In urge incontinence, the bladder contracts when it shouldn’t, causing
some urine to leak through the sphincter muscles holding the bladder closed. Other
names for this condition are:
- overactive bladder
- bladder spasms
- spasmodic bladder
- irritable bladder
- detrusor instability
While this is a common issue and can affect anyone, women
and older adults are at a higher risk of developing it.
It’s important to remember that urge incontinence isn’t a
disease. It’s a symptom of lifestyle or medical issues or physical problems.
Urge incontinence is one piece of the larger framework of
urinary incontinence. There are several forms of urinary incontinence, ranging
from leaking small amounts of urine to an overactive bladder. Your doctor can
diagnose your specific type of incontinence and its cause, and they can provide
possible treatment options.
What Causes Urge Incontinence?
In many cases of urge incontinence, a doctor isn’t able to
pinpoint an exact cause. However, some potential causes could include:
- a bladder infection
- an obstruction of the opening of the bladder
- an enlarged prostate in men
- bladder cancer
- diseases of the nervous system, such as multiple
- an injury to the nervous system, such trauma to
the spinal cord or a stroke
When Should You See a Doctor?
For many people, urge incontinence is merely an
inconvenience that doesn’t require a doctor visit. However, if urge
incontinence impedes your daily activities, you may want to visit your doctor
to discuss treatment options or other ways to manage your condition.
Treatments are varied. They depend on your unique symptoms
and condition. Each person will have a slightly different treatment plan. Your
doctor will likely recommend that you try behavioral treatments, such as
bladder retraining and Kegel exercises, before suggesting more invasive
If you have a serious case of urge incontinence, you should seek
treatment right away. Your symptoms could be signaling:
- a bladder infection
- an obstruction
- stones in the bladder or kidney
Some symptoms to watch out for alongside your urge
incontinence are pain in the pelvic region, burning or pain with urination, or symptoms
that continue for several days.
What Are the Treatment Options for Urge Incontinence?
Most people with urge incontinence can live normally without
treatment. However, the condition could affect your daily life. You may want to
consider trying some of the many treatment options for urge incontinence.
Some treatments can be self-administered at home. Others
require the assistance of your doctor.
Changing the foods you eat can reduce bladder irritation.
You should limit your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and other irritating foods
that are spicy, acidic, or high in sugar. In addition, try to lose weight if
you’re overweight. Adjust your lifestyle habits to be healthier overall.
Kegel exercises are usually the first treatment option for
urinary incontinence. The process strengthens the muscles involved in
urination, specifically the pelvic floor muscles.
Try contracting the pelvic floor for 5 to 10 seconds, and then
rest for the same amount of time. Contracting the pelvic floor is the same as
when you stop the flow of urine midstream. If you’re unsure if you’re doing it
correctly, try stopping your urine midstream. Doing a Kegel exercise should
replicate that sensation of stopping your urine.
Simply concentrating on your pelvic floor region and
contracting will activate the correct muscles. Repeat this sequence for as many
repetitions as you can, three or more times per day. You can do Kegel exercises
at any time and in any location. If overseen by a doctor, you may use Kegel cones,
which are weighted cones held in the vagina by contracting the pelvic floor. As
your muscles get stronger, you use heavier weights.
One option for pelvic floor strengthening is an electric
version of Kegel exercises. Here a doctor will insert a probe into the vaginal
or anal openings to send a shock to the pelvic floor muscles. This helps
strengthen them. However, it takes several months and many treatments to be
Retraining your bladder can strengthen the muscles involved
with urination. One technique involves urinating at only specific, scheduled
times each day. You can’t urinate at other times, even if you have the urge to
go. At first, you’ll go every hour and then increase the wait time by half-hour
intervals until you can make it three to four hours without leakage.
Another technique is to delay urination when the urge
strikes. This strengthens your ability to hold urine. You may also try
urinating and then going again immediately afterward to learn how to empty the
Try to eat more fiber to prevent constipation, which can put
pressure on the bladder. You should also quit smoking so that you cough less.
You may want to wear an absorbent pad while you do
activities that increase leakage.
Your doctor can also provide you with a urethra insert or a
pessary. These inserts are like small tampons that you can insert into the
urethra before specific activities where leakage is likely to occur. They
aren’t meant for everyday use. A pessary inserts into the vagina to help hold
up the bladder and limit urinary leakage. You can insert it yourself and wear
it all day.
Your doctor can provide you with additional treatment
options, such as medication or surgery, to help with muscle strength and
sphincter functioning. There are many surgical options your doctor can discuss
Getting collagen implants involves injections into your urethra
wall to help control the leakage of urine due to weak sphincter muscles. This
is a relatively simple and effective way to treat urinary incontinence.
Nerve stimulators are small devices that resemble pacemakers.
The device inserts under the skin of the buttocks and hooks up to the sacral
nerve. It sends light pulses to the nerve to help control your bladder’s
A catheter is another at-home option that’s specifically for
those who have overflow incontinence. Your doctor will teach you how to insert
the catheter, which will help empty your bladder completely when you urinate.
What Complications Are Associated with Urge Incontinence?
Because urge incontinence is normally a chronic condition
that doesn’t have serious complications, there are few risks associated with
not seeking treatment. As long as you have no other symptoms along with your
urge incontinence, such as pain or burning while urinating, there’s little
However, you need to see a doctor if an infection, bladder
stones, or inflammation is the cause of your incontinence. Infection could
spread to the kidneys or other areas of the body.