Incontinence is the inability to control when you urinate or have a bowel movement. Millions of people suffer with incontinence due to illness, disease, defect, or old age; however it’s not a disease itself. Instead, it’s the underlying symptom of another condition or disease.

Risk Factors and Causes

Incontinence is caused by a disease or other health problems but can also be a side-effect of medication, a urinary tract infection, or constipation. Ongoing incontinence is often caused by a more serious problem, like damage to the organs in your pelvic area or the presence of disease. Here are some other factors and causes of incontinence:

  • Age: As we get older, the muscles and reflexes in our body become weaker. As a result, it may become difficult or even impossible to control your bodily functions, explaining why incontinence affects so many older people.
  • Gender: Women tend to suffer from incontinence more than men do. This could be the result of pregnancy, birth, hysterectomy, or other reproductive issues.
  • Parkinson ’s Disease: Parkinson’s disease breaks down the central nervous system affecting muscles, movement, and motor skills. The disease makes it difficult for the brain to send signals to the rest of the body. As a result, people with Parkinson’s will often suffer with incontinence in the later stages of the disease.
  • Other Neurological Diseases: Any disease or condition that attacks or cripples the nervous system, such as Multiple Sclerosis, can cause incontinence.
  • Other Internal Problems: Damage to the urinary tract, its nerves, the intestines, or the rectum can result in incontinence as well as an enlarged prostate, emotional or physical stress, or an overactive bladder.


The only symptom of incontinence is the accidental release of waste despite efforts to control elimination. The reason you release waste may vary, so the causes and risk factors can also be considered symptoms as well.  You may or may not feel sudden or frequent urges to go to the bathroom.


There are five different types of tests that are performed to test for incontinence.

  1. Bladder Stress Test – Your doctor checks to see if you lose control of your bladder while coughing or sneezing.
  2. Q-tip test – The doctor inserts a Q-tip into the urethra and then instructs the patient to strain and cough. If it moves around too much, it’s an indication that the tissue and muscles that support the bladder are weak.
  3. Catheter – After you completely empty your bladder, a catheter to can be inserted to determine if excess urine comes out.
  4. Urinary Analysis – A sample of your urine may be sent in for analysis to check for infection or diseases.
  5. Ultrasound – May be used to check on bladder and other internal organs for masses or irregularities.


There are four types of incontinence:

  • Functional incontinence is caused by physical problems, like dementia or arthritis. These problems are directly responsible for a person not being able to get to the bathroom on time.
  • Stress incontinence is caused when you put any type of pressure on your bladder. This pressure may be the result of coughing, laughing, sneezing or exercising.
  • Urge incontinence happens when you have the urge to go to the bathroom and release before you actually get there.
  • Mixed incontinence is the mixture of symptoms from urge to stress incontinence.

Men and women can both suffer from any of the above types of incontinence. Men are also at risk for  overflow incontinence, which is caused by a large prostate or a block in the urethra.


Here are some treatment options for each type of incontinence:

  • Functional: Treating the main cause of the incontinence (disease, physical condition, etc.)
  • Mixed: A person may have to undergo therapy to strengthen their pelvis. They may also have to take medicine or have surgery to correct the problem.
  • Overflow: A person may need to use a catheter.
  • Stress: Just like mixed incontinence, a person will need therapy and/or surgery; anti-incontinence devices may also be implemented.
  • Urge: A change in diet as well as medication, therapy and/or surgery.


The prognosis is excellent, especially with current medical advances. Each type of incontinence is treated differently. Some require surgery, while others simply require a change of diet and exercise. Of course, your personal treatment will depend on what you and your doctor agree upon.


The information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material found on this website is intended to promote and encourage consumer understanding and should not be considered alternative or supplementary medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health or physical condition, seek the advice of a licensed qualified healthcare provider. Be sure to discuss any changes or concerns with your doctor before beginning a new healthcare regimen, undergoing any procedures, or changing current healthcare plans. Seniors and Health does not claim medical representation and assumes no responsibility in the accuracy of the information available on this website.

To learn about other common health concerns among senior, check out our Health and Conditions page; we also provide information on senior care options on our Assisted Living page.

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