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Urinary incontinence FAQs

Between 3 and 6 million people in the UK experience some urinary incontinence.

What is urinary incontinence? What causes it and how is it treated? Read our FAQs.

What is urinary incontinence and what causes it?

Urinary incontinence is passing urine (wee) when you don’t mean to.

This can be due to many reasons, including infections, medication side-effects, weak bladder muscles, enlarged prostate in men, complications from surgery, or due to conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's disease and problems after having a stroke.

Who gets urinary incontinence?

Incontinence affects men and women, but the causes may be different, such as menopause in women and enlarged prostate in men.

What are the different types of urinary incontinence?

The main types of urinary incontinence are:

How are the different types of incontinence diagnosed?

A doctor will diagnose urinary incontinence based on the symptoms, medical history and will usually carry out a physical examination. Tests may be arranged, including urine tests for any infections, blood tests, ultrasound of the bladder, cystoscopy examination of the urethra, and bladder pressure and flow measurement (urodynamics).

Will weight loss or diet changes help improve urinary incontinence?

Being overweight or obese makes some types of incontinence more like, so losing weight may help.

Some food and drink can increase the chances of incontinence episodes, including caffeine, alcohol and fizzy drinks.

Is there anything aside from medications that I can use to treat urinary incontinence?

Non-drug approaches to incontinence include:

Pelvic floor exercises to strengthen muscles around the bladder.

  • Electrical stimulation: Using a special electrical device to strengthen muscles in the lower pelvis.
  • Biofeedback: Getting better control of body functions using electrical sensors.
  • Bladder training: Learning to have longer gaps between visits to the toilet.
  • Absorbent products: Absorbent pads or underwear for men and women can help with leakages.

What medications are available to treat urinary incontinence?

  • Antimuscarinic (anticholinergic) medications, including oxybutynin, help prevent urge incontinence by relaxing muscles of the bladder.
  • Duloxetine may help with stress incontinence by affecting nerve signals controlling the bladder’s sphincter muscle.
  • Mirabegron may be an alternative if antimuscarinics are not appropriate. This drug makes the bladder muscles relax so that more urine can be stored.
  • Desmopressin may help with night-time urination (nocturia).

What other urinary incontinence treatments are available?

For women, tape procedures may be recommended for stress incontinence. Plastic tape helps support the urethra to prevent leakage.

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