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Types of Urinary Incontinence in Older Adults: Stress, Urge, Mixed, Overflow, Reflex

functional incontinence mixed incontinence overflow incontinence reflex incontinence stress incontinence types of urinary incontinence urinary incontinence symptoms

Types of Urinary Incontinence in Older Adults San Pablo Commercial SPC

It's okay for accidental leaks to occur occasionally, but more frequent urine leaks may be an underlying symptom of incontinence. The different types of incontinence include:

  • Stress incontinence happens due to increased pressure on the bladder from coughing, exercising, or lifting heavy weights. 
  • Urge incontinence is the urgency to urinate due to the inability to hold urine. It may result from other medical conditions such as diabetes, stroke, or Alzheimer's disease.
  • Mixed incontinence is the combination of different types of incontinence. Usually a mix of stress and urge incontinence.
  • Overflow incontinence is associated with incomplete emptying of the bladder and may cause minor leakage. 
  • Functional incontinence occurs when someone cannot physically reach the toilet on time.
  • Reflex incontinence happens when the bladder contracts and releases urine due to damage to the nerves that sends signals to the brain about when to urinate. 

When to See A Doctor For Urinary Incontinence 

If you are experiencing loss of bladder control, it is recommended to schedule an appointment with your doctor. The diagnosis and treatment will vary depending on what type of urinary incontinence you have. Talking with a medical professional can help alleviate any concerns you may have as well as provide insight on helpful lifestyle changes and treatment plans available. Knowing the different types of incontinence in further detail can help you better understand your condition. 

You might be asked to keep a diary of daily urinations and volume of  fluid intake for a few days to monitor any irregular patterns of urination. Your doctor will also want to know about any surgeries, pregnancies, and medications you are taking, since certain drugs can cause incontinence by increasing urine production or relaxing muscles of the bladder or urethra. For additional help, please read How to Talk to Your Doctor About Urinary Incontinence.

What is Stress Urinary Incontinence?

Stress incontinence occurs when the urethral sphincter, the pelvic floor muscles, or both of these muscle structures have been weakened or damaged. As a result, one cannot hold in their urine and accidental leaks occur. The word "stress" refers to the physical strain and muscular activity associated with leakage. 

Common symptoms of stress incontinence include urinary leaks while:

  • sneezing, 
  • laughing, 
  • coughing, 
  • jumping, 
  • lifting something heavy

Common causes of stress incontinence include:

  • surgical trauma,
  • radiation,
  • pregnancy, 
  • childbirth, 
  • menopause.

"If urine leaks out when you cough, laugh, walk, run, jump, bend over, or do any physical exertion that increases abdominal pressure on the bladder, you may have stress incontinence. The leakage occurs even though the bladder muscles are not contracting and you don't feel the urge to urinate."

What is Urge Incontinence (UI)?

Another common bladder problem is called urge incontinence, also known as overactive bladder (OAB). Individuals with an overactive bladder have an urgent, "gotta go" feeling that they can't control. This condition occurs in both men and women and involves an overwhelming urge to urinate immediately, frequently followed by loss of urine before one can reach a bathroom.

Common symptoms of overactive bladder include a sudden need to urinate with a large volume of urine loss.

Common causes of urge incontinence may be associated with: 

  • an infection,
  • diabetes, 
  • pelvic trauma, 
  • neurologic diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, 
  • pregnancy, 
  • childbirth, 
  • menopause

"If you feel a strong urge to urinate even when your bladder isn't full, your incontinence might be related to overactive bladder, sometimes called urge incontinence."

What is Mixed Incontinence?

If you have symptoms of both overactive bladder and stress incontinence, you most likely have mixed incontinence. Mixed incontinence also occurs in men who have had prostate removal or surgery for an enlarged prostate. 

Common symptoms of mixed incontinence include a combination of urge incontinence and stress incontinence.

What is Overflow Incontinence?

Overflow incontinence occurs when something blocks urine from flowing normally out of the bladder, such as the case of prostate enlargement which partially closes off the urethra. It can occur in both men and women if the bladder muscle becomes underactive (the opposite of an overactive bladder), meaning you don't feel an urge to urinate. The bladder may also spasm at random times resulting in leakage. This condition is sometimes related to diabetes or cardiovascular disease.


Common symptoms of overflow incontinence include frequent urine leaks due to insufficient emptying of the bladder, which may occur during coughing, sneezing, laughing, lifting something heavy, or jumping.

Common causes of overflow incontinence include: 

  • diabetes, 
  • neurological damage, 
  • spinal cord injury, 
  • Parkinson’s disease, 
  • multiple sclerosis, 
  • an enlarged prostate,
  • pregnancy,
  • childbirth

"If your bladder never completely empties, you might experience urine leakage, with or without feeling a need to go. Eventually the bladder becomes overfilled, or distended, pulling the urethra open and allowing urine to leak out."

What is Functional Incontinence?

If your urinary tract is functioning properly but other illnesses or disabilities are preventing you from staying dry, you might have what is known as functional incontinence. Medications, dementia, or mental illness can decrease awareness of the need to find a toilet. Even if your urinary system is fine, it can be extremely difficult for you to avoid accidents if you have trouble getting to a toilet. This usually occurs due having arthritis, being hospitalized or restrained, or having a toilet located too far away.

Common symptoms of functional incontinence include loss of urine that is typically not associated with any disease or problems associated with the urinary system

Common causes of functional incontinence include physical or cognitive impairment such as:

  • head injury,
  • Alzheimer’s disease, 
  • immobility, 
  • arthritis, 
  • inability to unbutton one’s pants fast enough

"If an illness rendered you unaware or unconcerned about the need to find a toilet, you would become incontinent. This problem can affect anyone with a condition that makes it excessively difficult to move to the bathroom and undress in time."

What is Reflex Incontinence?

Reflex incontinence occurs when the bladder muscle contracts and urine leaks (often in large amounts) without any warning or urge. This can happen as a result of damage to the nerves that normally warn the brain that the bladder is filling.

Common symptoms of reflex incontinence include involuntary emptying of the bladder when the bladder is full and contracts.

Common causes of reflex incontinence include neurological impairment from multiple sclerosis or a spinal cord injury, typically above the T12 area of the spine. 

"Reflex incontinence usually appears in people with serious neurological impairment from multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, other injuries, or damage from surgery or radiation treatment."

San Pablo Commercial is a family-owned, small business with a mission to deliver affordable medical supplies to their customers. We offer a variety of incontinence products including SPC underpads, adult diapers, disposable bed pads for incontinence, incontinence briefs, and more. SPC disposable quilted underpads are also available on Amazon. We care deeply about our customers and want to make ordering incontinence supplies easier so that they can spend less time cleaning up spills and messes.

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