Types of

There are various types of incontinence. It is important to understand what type of incontinence you or the person you care for is encountering.

Stress incontinence

This is a result of weak sphincter muscles, often together with poor muscle tone in the pelvic floor. Urinary incontinence can occur during exertion (coughing, violent sneezing, fits of laughter, running or jumping, carrying a heavy load), if this causes pressure inside the bladder. This type of incontinence affects mainly women.

Urge incontinence

This type of incontinence results from involuntary contractions of the bladder. It means that you need to urinate frequently and often urgently. You may hear this referred to as "pollakiuria". If you can’t get to the toilet quickly enough when you need to, you may leak urine. Several things can cause this type of incontinence:
  • emotion (e.g. fear or stress);
  • a urinary or vaginal infection;
  • difficulty in sensing the need to urinate (because of neurological disease or ageing), so that it is felt too late or not strongly enough;
  • taking certain drugs (drugs for hypertension, diuretics, alpha and beta blockers, drugs for anxiety etc.).

Overflow incontinence (urinary retention)

Normally, people start sensing the need to urinate when the bladder contains 150 ml (about a cupful) and they empty the bladder completely when they urinate. The term “urinary retention” means that your bladder fills up but you don’t feel you need to urinate or you can’t manage to urinate. Often, urination happens because your bladder overflows and you only pass the excess amount. The term “dysuria” is used if you find urination difficult or painful. Apart from being painful, urinary retention is also likely to cause infection. It should therefore be treated very quickly. Various factors can lead to urinary retention:
  • a “lazy” bladder that doesn’t contract sufficiently;
  • difficulty in sensing the need to urinate because of neurological disease;
  • an obstacle that partly or completely blocks the urethra, such as a tumour or bladder stone.

Mixed urinary incontinence

This is a combination of two types, usually stress incontinence and urge incontinence.

Functional incontinence

This type of incontinence is caused by physical or mental disorders that stop someone from reaching the toilet in time. It often happens with the elderly when they find it difficult to get about, or with people who have suffered a stroke.

Total incontinence

People affected by this type of incontinence no longer have any control over their bladder. Total incontinence is often the result of a physical injury, a disease of the spinal cord, destruction of the sphincter muscles or a similar cause.

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