What is Urge Incontinence?

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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2019
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Urinary incontinence, or the inability to control one’s bladder functions, can present itself in several different ways. Primarily referring to a specific cause or symptom, the types of urinary incontinence, such as urge incontinence, stress incontinence, overflow incontinence, or a combination, all typically result in an involuntary release of urine. Urge incontinence is also sometimes called an overactive bladder.

Urge incontinence is marked by frequent and uncontrollable urges to urinate. The urges often come on suddenly and intensely and are followed by an involuntary loss of urine. Many times, the bladder muscle contracts and sends the signal to the brain, but a person may have only a few seconds to reach the bathroom because the contraction quickly squeezes out urine. Urine may be released from a change in position or even drinking a small amount of liquid. In some cases, the urge to urinate is there, but very little or no urine is released.

Acute, or temporary, urge incontinence may be caused by a urinary tract infection or bladder irritation, such as stones or polyps. Frequent urge and urination is a common symptom of urinary tract infections, but when treated with an antibiotic, tends to disappear. Other causes of urge incontinence include stroke, bladder cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or injury to the central nervous system. In cases where there is no diagnosed cause, urge incontinence is treated as overactive bladder.


Urge incontinence can happen to anyone, but it is most common in elderly individuals and women. Tests to diagnose urinary incontinence include a urinalysis to rule out infection; cystoscopy, or visual inspection of the bladder; ultrasound; urinary stress test; and X-rays with contrast dye. Other tests may be performed depending on symptoms and health history.

Treatment of urinary incontinence will depend on the cause, type and the severity of symptoms. If an infection is noted, antibiotics are given. Often, no cause is found and other medication can be prescribed to control symptoms. Anticholinergic medicines are drugs that help relax the muscles in the bladder. They are commonly prescribed to treat chronic urge incontinence and are taken once a day. In less severe cases, a doctor may recommend adjusting diet and lifestyle habits. Measures such as eliminating caffeine and carbonated drinks and spicy and acidic foods may help.

Urge incontinence can be an embarrassing condition for people to have, but it is important to talk to your doctor if you have developed any symptoms of urinary problems. Sometimes urinary incontinence can indicate a more serious health problem which should be addressed by a physician.


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