Types of Urinary Incontinence

25-45% of adult women report occasional leakage. Don’t suffer in silence.

There are many different types of urinary incontinence, but the most common are stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and urge incontinence, which can also be called overactive bladder (OAB).13  Women can often show symptoms from more than one category13 (mixed incontinence), so it is important to seek a specialist to ensure you find the treatment that is right for you.

On this page, you will learn about the different types of urinary incontinence, taking a deeper look into stress urinary incontinence. Also discussed are the potential causes, symptoms, diagnoses, and the impact that stress urinary incontinence can have on your day-to-day life.

Types and Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence

Bladder leakage (or urinary incontinence) is a medical condition shared by millions of women. To better understand bladder leakage, it is important to explain urinary incontinence and the different types of incontinence. 2

Urinary Incontinence (UI) is the involuntary loss of urine from the body. UI can be frequent or occasional. The loss of urine can range from a few dribbles to a complete emptying of the bladder.9

There are several types of Urinary Incontinence, including:

  • Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) occurs when urine leaks during exercise, coughing, sneezing, laughing or any movement that puts pressure (stress) on the bladder.3
  • Urge Urinary Incontinence involves the sudden and unstoppable loss of urine — the sudden urge to go.3
  • Mixed Urinary Incontinence is a combination of stress and urge incontinence.3
  • Overactive Bladder (OAB) is the urgent need to urinate. OAB can result in urinating with excessive frequency – more than eight times a day or more than once at night — as well as urgency, a strong and sudden desire to urinate. Overactive bladder is also referred to as urge incontinence.3

Stress Urinary Incontinence

Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) occurs when urine leaks during exercise, coughing, sneezing, laughing or any movement that puts pressure (stress) on the bladder.3

How does SUI affect the bladder? 14

  • Bladder leakage in SUI is due to the weakening of the pelvic muscles and tissue that normally support the bladder.
  • In a standard functioning bladder, the muscles in your urethra stay closed to prevent urine from escaping the bladder until you have reached the bathroom.
  • With SUI, however, any force that is exerted on the bladder through physical movement such as running, sneezing or laughing, may cause your bladder to leak since weakened pelvic muscles are no longer staying closed.

How does the bladder work and what causes bladder leakage

Not all women will experience SUI in the same way. Some women will only leak when they exercise vigorously or when they have a full bladder. Other women, however, may experience bladder leakage from daily living activities, such as walking or sneezing. While the amount of urine leakage may differ, at some point SUI may interfere with your activities, intrude on your social life, or be just plain inconvenient and embarrassing.5513 Learn how SUI was impacting Tina, a member of a special ops unit in the Army, and how she was able to find relief here.

An estimated 1 in 3 women over age 45 are affected by stress urinary incontinence.

Causes of Stress Urinary Incontinence

Stress urinary incontinence can develop slowly as you age or may be a result of a specific event or factors such as:11

  • Childbirth
  • Previous pelvic surgery
  • Menopause
  • Obesity

Other conditions linked to stress urinary incontinence include depression, urinary tract infections, smoking, and diabetes.11 It can also occur with repetitive strainings such as chronic coughing or high-impact activities such as aerobics and running.14  Carol, age 55, dealt with leakage during exercise for 4 months before consulting a doctor. Find out what the final straw was and how her situation turned out here.


Symptoms & Impact of Urinary Incontinence

Symptoms of Stress Urinary Incontinence

Impact of Stress Urinary Incontinence

~6.5 years – The average time women wait to talk to their doctor about bladder leakage.12

Tests for Stress Urinary Incontinence

How is urinary incontinence diagnosed?

As there are many different types of urinary incontinence which share the same symptoms13, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis to ensure that the appropriate treatment is selected. The first step is to seek out a physician that specializes in Pelvic Floor Disorders such as urogyns as they have received special training to diagnose and treat women with urinary incontinence.49 13

Medical history

The first thing your physician will ask is for a complete rundown on your medical history, which includes any medication or supplements you may be taking. Next, your physician will want to know about your bladder leakage symptoms and when you experience them. Being as truthful as possible is important. It is easy to become embarrassed or uncomfortable, but accurately describing your symptoms is the first step to finding a solution.

Approximately 18 million women in the U.S. suffer from urinary incontinence.2

Physical exam

After you have discussed your medical history, a physical exam will often be conducted. Your specialist may look to see if you have any additional pelvic floor disorders that may be related to your bladder leakage. Next, your physician may ask you to do a “cough test” to see how well your bladder holds up to stress during normal daily activities. Your physician could also ask you to do an “at home pad test”. This test will help to estimate how much you are leaking throughout the day to determine the severity of your urinary incontinence.9 There are bladder imaging and bladder function tests that can also be conducted if your physician needs additional information to diagnose your symptoms accurately.

If you’re dealing with urinary incontinence, there are several types of doctors who can help diagnose and treat your condition — including gynecologists, urogynecologists, and urologists. Not all physician’s treat urinary incontinence. Be your own advocate and ask how many others with urinary incontinence they have treated to ensure you find the best physician for your symptoms.

During menopause, reduced estrogen levels can cause the lining of the urethra to start to thin. Coupled with a weakening of the surrounding pelvic muscles — known as the pelvic floor — women at midlife and older may be at an increased risk for urinary incontinence or bladder leakage.

There are a variety of treatments for stress urinary incontinence (SUI), including lifestyle changes, physical therapy exercises, like pelvic floor muscle exercises and surgical procedures. It is important to find a physician who specializes in treating women with stress urinary incontinence to ensure you find the treatment that is best for you.

Symptom Checker

Do you show symptoms that could identify stress urinary incontinence? Read the bullets below and ask yourself if you leak during any of the activities. If you say yes to one or more, you may have symptoms of stress incontinence and should consult with your doctor. 

Do you leak urine during the following activities?

  • Laughing
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Heavy Lifting
  • Physical Activity
  • During Intercourse

Remember, although these signs and symptoms can alert you to a problem, they are not unique to stress incontinence, so it is important to consult a doctor for the correct diagnosis.