Managing Urinary Incontinence (UI)

Urinary incontinence (UI), or the loss of bladder control, is a common medical issue that affects both men and women. The severity ranges from leaking only at certain times, such as when you cough or sneeze, to having such strong and sudden urges that you can't get to the bathroom in time.

What is Urinary Incontinence (UI)?
UI is the loss of bladder control or leakage of urine that can occur any time. It can affect you in different ways, depending on the type of UI you have. There are many causes of UI, with physical changes due to aging the most common. Conditions that can cause nerve and muscle damage can also cause UI to occur.

What are the Different Types of UI?
There are several different types of UI:

  • Stress incontinence is the loss of urine during an action that puts pressure from the abdomen on the bladder, such as coughing, sneezing or lifting.
  • Urge incontinence is the loss of urine after an overwhelming urge to urinate that cannot be stopped.
  • Overflow incontinence is the dribbling of urine, usually occurring frequently and in small amounts.

What Might Cause UI?
Causes can vary among men and women. However, nerve and muscle damage, infection and excess weight may lead to UI. Drinking alcohol or beverages with caffeine can also cause UI.

UI in Men
Many men have UI. It becomes more common with age, but can occur at any time. Besides the normal aging process, nerve and prostate problems are most often the reason that UI can develop in men. Visit the National Institutes of Health to learn more about causes, diagnosis and treatment of UI in men.

UI in Women
UI is twice as common in women as in men. Physical changes resulting from pregnancy, childbirth and menopause are major reasons why.

This Fact Sheet from the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women's Health will help you learn more about UI in women. Topics covered include:

  • What causes UI in women?
  • How to find out if you have UI.
  • How is UI treated?
  • And more.

What are the chances of developing UI?
The risk varies by age and sex. Adult women are more likely than adult men to experience UI because of anatomical differences in the pelvic region. The changes induced by pregnancy and childbirth, smoking, diabetes and certain kidney and neurological problems may also increase your risk.

How is UI treated?
Your doctor will work with you to find the best treatment for your UI. In most cases, simple lifestyle changes or medical treatment can ease your discomfort or completely stop your UI altogether. The three major types of UI treatments are:

  • Behavior Changes - These are things your doctor may recommend you do to help your UI. They include:
    • Pelvic muscle exercises (Kegel exercises)
    • Bladder retraining (getting your body in the habit of going to the bathroom at set times)
    • Losing weight
    • Quitting smoking
  • Changes to your Medicine - Your doctor may:
    • Prescribe a new medicine that can help with bladder control
    • Have you stop taking a medicine you are currently using that may be causing loss of bladder control
  • Surgery - The operation recommended will depend on the type and cause of your UI. If you are experiencing any signs of UI, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Talking to Your Doctor About UI
Your family doctor can usually treat bladder problems or figure out if there are other health issues causing your UI. If your doctor does not treat these problems, he or she may be able to help you find a doctor who does, such as a urologist or gynecologist. You can also use our Find a Doctor tool or call Customer Service at the phone number on the back of your member ID card for help.

When you meet with your doctor, it will help to be prepared. See our brochure, Managing Urinary Incontinence, for helpful tips.

Safety First
If you find yourself rushing to get to the bathroom before you have an accident or getting up for a late-night bathroom visit in the dark, you are putting yourself at an increased risk for falling. Review our Fall Prevention Checklist. It details things you can do to prevent falls in your home. It also lists ways you can avoid falls by taking good care of your health. Please use the checklist and take the actions needed to avoid falling. As you can see, there are lots of things you can do to help prevent falls!

Extra Help - Our Case Management Program
Dealing with a medical condition and coordinating your care, especially when you have more than one health issue, can be stressful. Our Case Management program may be able to help. It is available to all members with multiple medical issues who need care coordination. For more information about our program, please call 1-800-447-0768, Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm.

For More Information
To find out more about UI, check out the following resources:

For Health Care Providers
View recommendations for managing UI from recognized sources in these Clinical Practice Guidelines.