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HomeHealth articlesurinary incontinenceWhat Is a Leaky Bladder (Urinary Incontinence)?

Leaky Bladder (Urinary Incontinence) - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Leaky bladder or urinary incontinence is a condition in which urine leaks due to a lack of bladder control. Read the article to learn more about it.

Published At December 27, 2022
Reviewed AtFebruary 22, 2023


The leaky bladder is a problem in which control over the bladder is lost. As a result, the urine leaks out while coughing, sneezing, and exercising. Pregnancy and menopause are also responsible for this condition because they affect the muscles of the bladder. So this condition is commonly seen in women, and they feel uncomfortable discussing this problem with the doctor. However, it becomes necessary to consult the doctor on time because bladder problems harm life if left untreated.

What Is a Leaky Bladder?

The urinary system consists of organs designed to carry out their specific functions. The urinary system filters blood, and the waste products are separated and converted to urine. The major component of urine is urea formed due to amino acid metabolism. The urinary system also maintains the fluid volume of the body by controlling the amount of water excreted in the urine. The organs present in the urinary system are listed below:

  1. Kidneys.

  2. Ureters.

  3. Urinary bladder.

  4. Urethra.

The kidneys form urine which reaches the urinary bladder through the ureters. As soon as the bladder receives the urine, the nerves present around it transmit messages to the brain that the patient needs to pass urine. The muscles present in the bladder contract and push the urine out of the body through the urethra. Therefore, when the bladder functions normally, the person has enough time to reach the bathroom to urinate. In the case of a leaky bladder, the urine flows out of the body before the person reaches the toilet. It is because the muscles and nerves of the bladder do not function correctly, leading to a condition called urinary incontinence (urine leakage).

What Are the Major Causes of a Leaky Bladder?

There are several reasons why a person suffers from urinary incontinence or leaky bladder. The causes can be temporary (short-term) or permanent (long-term). The causes have been described below:

1) Temporary Causes - It includes the health conditions that subside after the treatment. The urinary leakage problem also gets resolved after the condition has been treated. The temporary causes have been listed below:

  • Urinary Tract Infection - It is the infection of the urinary system due to bacterial entry. The patient experiences pain and frequently needs to rush to the bathroom to urinate. If the condition is treated at the right time, the urine leakage problem also subsides in a short time.
  • Constipation - In this condition, the patient feels difficulty in passing stools. As a result, the stools remain within the organ known as the rectum. It is located near the urinary bladder and shares a common network of nerves. The stools put pressure on the bladder and the nerves causing the urine to leak out. If the constipation is treated with suitable medications, the bowel movement becomes normal, and the urinary leakage problem gets resolved.
  • Pregnancy - The uterus expands during pregnancy to accommodate the baby. As a result, the pressure on the bladder increases, and the urine might leak out. The condition usually subsides a few weeks after the delivery.

2) Drugs - The medications that can cause leaky bladder or urinary incontinence are listed below:

  • Diuretics - Hydrochlorothiazide, Furosemide, and Bumetanide.
  • Narcotics - Morphine, Oxycodone, and Meperidine.
  • Antihistamines - Chlorpheniramine and Diphenhydramine.
  • Sedatives - Diazepam, Lorazepam, and Chlordiazepoxide.

3) Permanent Causes - The permanent or long-term causes of a leaky bladder are listed below:

  • Pelvic Disorders - The pelvis consists of muscles that support the bladder and control urine flow. If the pelvic muscles become weak, they cannot support the bladder resulting in urine leakage.
  • Menopause - Menopause, or the cessation of the menstrual cycle (periods) in females, occurs at 45 to 50 years. It is when the hormone levels change drastically, particularly estrogen levels. As a result, the women produce less estrogen, which decreases the strength of the pelvic muscles resulting in urine leakage.

  • Neurological Disorders - The nerves run from the bladder to the spinal cord to transmit the signals to the brain. As a result of this communication, the person gets a message that he needs to urinate in the brain. However, in the case of neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, stroke, spinal injury, and brain tumor, the brain, and the bladder network are lost. Hence the urine leaks out from the bladder without the knowledge of the person.

  • Prostate Gland Problems - If the prostate gland increases in size, it puts pressure on the bladder, resulting in urine leakage. If the patient undergoes surgery for prostate cancer, the muscles that control the urine flow might get damaged, resulting in urine leakage.

  • Peripheral Neuropathy - In this condition, the nerves become damaged due to high blood sugar levels (diabetes). The nerves around the bladder cannot carry the signals to the brain. As a result, the bladder loses control, and the urine leaks out.

What Are the Symptoms of a Leaky Bladder?

The only symptom that the patient presents with is the leakage of urine. The urine leaks out while doing activities that put pressure on the bladder, like coughing, sneezing, lifting heavy objects or weights, and bending. Under normal conditions, the patient has time to reach the bathroom to urinate. In the case of a leaky bladder, the urine flows before the person reaches the toilet. Due to urine leakage at night, the patient might wet his bed.

What Are the Types of Urinary Incontinence?

The different types of urinary incontinence are listed below:

1) Stress Incontinence:

  • The urine leakage occurs during activities like coughing, sneezing, laughing, jumping, running, and lifting something heavy.

  • The pelvic muscles that support the bladder become weak in stress incontinence.

2) Urge Incontinence:

  • The patient feels a strong urge to pass urine. However, it is so intense that the person cannot reach the bathroom and leaks some amount of urine.

  • It happens due to infections, overactive bladder, nerve damage, and obesity.

3) Overflow Incontinence:

  • It occurs due to the incomplete emptying of the bladder. As a result, small amounts of urine keep dripping throughout the day.

4) Functional Incontinence:

  • If a person is physically challenged and has walking difficulties (arthritis), it becomes impossible for him to rush to the bathroom to urinate.

  • The bladder functions are normal in such people, but the urine leaks out because of the delay in reaching the bathroom.

5) Mixed Incontinence:

  • If a person experiences more than one type of urinary incontinence, it is known as mixed incontinence. For example, the person might experience stress and urge incontinence together.

What Are the Methods to Diagnose a Leaky Bladder?

The methods used to diagnose a leaky bladder are listed below:

  • Medical History - The patient needs to fill out a medical history form that contains questions like the following:

    • How many times does the patient need to urinate throughout the day and night?

    • Has the patient experienced the condition in the past?

    • Does the urine leak before reaching the bathroom?

    • How many times does urine leakage occur during the day?

  • Physical Examination - In this procedure, the doctor examines the patient to check if any conditions cause urine leakage. Pelvic examination is done in females, and prostate examination is done in males as part of physical examination. The surgeon inserts a gloved finger in the vagina to examine the uterus and the ovaries in the pelvic examination. In the case of prostate examination, the doctor feels the prostate gland by inserting a finger through the rectum. Enlargement of the prostate gland and weakening of the pelvic muscles are some of the causes of urinary incontinence. The doctor might ask the patient to do activities like coughing, running, or jumping to see if the urine leakage occurs or not.

  • Urinalysis - The patient is asked to collect the urine in a container. It is then sent to the laboratory for examination under a microscope. The presence of blood, white blood cells, bacteria, and other conditions affecting the urine flow can be detected.

  • Ultrasound - It is a type of imaging test in which sound waves are sent to the body organs with the help of a device known as a transducer. The doctor moves the transducer at different angles to obtain images of the urinary system, including the bladder. It allows the doctor to detect the abnormalities present in the bladder.

  • Post-void Residual Urine Test - In this test, the patient is asked to urinate in the bathroom to empty the bladder. Next, the doctor checks the amount of urine left in the bladder by inserting a catheter through an ultrasound. If a large quantity of urine is left in the bladder, the bladder muscles have problems.

What Are Some of the Treatment Options for a Leaky Bladder?

Several treatment options are available for leaky bladder or urinary incontinence, depending on the severity and cause of the condition. The treatment options are listed below:

  • Behavioral Training: The following instructions are to be followed:

    1. The patient needs to hold the urine for ten minutes after he feels the urge to urinate. It helps to increase the time between bathroom visits.

    2. If the patient cannot empty the bladder at once, he needs to wait and try again to empty the bladder.

    3. It is essential to go to the bathroom every two to three hours to urinate instead of rushing when the need arises.

  • Kegel Exercises: These exercises are recommended by doctors to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and help the patient overcome stress and urge incontinence. The patient needs to contract and relax the muscles that stop the flow of urine (pelvic muscles) for five seconds. As the patient becomes comfortable, the contraction time should be increased to ten seconds.

  • Antibiotics: The following medications are recommended to increase bladder strength and relax the bladder muscles so that it holds urine for long:

    1. Darifenacin.

    2. Oxybutynin.

    3. Mirabegron.

    4. Tamsulosin.

    5. Alfuzosin.

    6. Doxazosin.

    7. Solifenacin.

    8. Trospium chloride.

  • Vaginal Electrical Stimulation: A low-intensity electric current is passed to the pelvic muscles by inserting the electrodes into the vagina. As a result, the pelvic muscles start contracting and controlling the urine flow in stress and urge incontinence.

  • Medical Devices: The following devices can be inserted in women to deal with urinary incontinence:

    1. Pessary: It is a ring-like device that is inserted into the vagina. The patient needs to wear the device the whole day. It supports the urethra, thereby preventing urine leakage.

    2. Urethral Inserts: As the name suggests, the device is inserted into the urethra and left in place. It is a disposable device, so it needs to be removed before urinating. It prevents urine leakage during sports and other activities.

  • Surgeries: The following surgical methods are usually performed:

    1. Sling Surgery: The doctor creates a sling from the body tissues or a mesh under the urethra and the bladder neck (the area where the bladder joins with the urethra). The sling closes the urethra during coughing, sneezing, and laughing to prevent urine leakage.

    2. Bladder Neck Suspension Surgery: The bladder neck meets the urinary bladder and the urethra. This procedure is done to support the urethra. It is carried out under general anesthesia, and the bladder neck is stitched next to the pubic bone.

    3. Artificial Urethral Sphincter: In this procedure, a ring is placed around the urinary bladder to keep the urinary sphincter under control (a muscle that controls the urine flow). The patient can press the valve attached to the skin to urinate.

    4. Bulking Agents: A special type of material (bulking agent) is injected around the urethra to keep it closed and prevent urine leakage. It is helpful in the case of stress incontinence.

    5. Botulinum Toxin Injections (Botox): Botulinum toxin (Botox) is injected into the urinary bladder to relax the bladder muscles and enable it to hold urine for a prolonged period. The patient needs to undergo this treatment repeatedly.

  • Absorbent Pads: If the urine keeps dripping throughout the day, the patient can wear disposable pads that help absorb the urine.

What Are the Complications of a Leaky Bladder?

If the urine leakage continues, the surrounding skin continues to remain wet. As a result, the patient experiences skin infection, itching, rashes, and sores. The risk of urinary tract infections also increases because urine provides a medium for bacterial growth. It also negatively impacts the personal and professional life of a person.


People usually ignore the problem of leaky bladder or urinary incontinence, thinking that it is normal and occurs with aging. As a result, the condition becomes worse and creates a negative effect on the life of a person. Sometimes, the patient feels embarrassed to discuss the problem with the doctor and leaves it untreated. This should not happen because there are various treatment options available for the condition. It is not necessary for the patient to undergo surgery in all cases. The condition can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, doing exercises to tighten the pelvic muscles, and cutting down on the consumption of alcohol, coffee, and other carbonated drinks. So, consult the doctor on time to deal with the problem in the best possible way.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is Urine Leakage Common During Pregnancy?

Urine leakage is common during pregnancy as the bladder is under a lot of pressure to accommodate the growing fetus. Therefore, urinary inconsistency is common during pregnancy. It might also occur after giving birth as well.


How Does a Person Know If It Is a Bladder Leak or Discharge?

Women experiencing bladder leaks often use sanitary pads for safety reasons. But, in case the stains on the pad appear dark orangish, they indicate a bladder leak, and if they are yellow, it is a sign of a vaginal discharge.


Can Bladder Leakage Occur for No Reason?

Bladder leakage occurs without warning due to an overactive bladder or damage to the muscle that prevents urinary flow. In addition, the condition usually occurs due to various other medical conditions, such as neurological disorders, pregnancy, enlarged prostate, urinary tract obstruction, menopause, or prostate cancer, which may also cause bladder loss.


Can Bladder Leakage Happen With No Urgency?

A bladder can leak without any warning signs or urinary urgency, or it may cause a person to urinate frequently. The condition is often called an overactive bladder. Urine may also leak due to extra pressure on the bladder while sneezing, coughing, or laughing.


What Are the Natural Remedies to Stop Bladder Leakage?

Natural remedies to stop bladder leakage include:
 - Stop smoking.
 - Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
 - Doing pelvic floor exercises.
 - Losing extra weight.
 - Get prompt treatment for constipation.
 - Avoid acidic and spicy foods.


What Causes Bladder Leakage In the Morning?

The kidneys usually filtrate less urine at night, and the bladder can relax and hold more urine. In addition, the vasopressin hormone also causes water retention in the cells at night, and thus the bladder becomes full in the morning and may cause bladder leakage due to fullness


Can Urinary Incontinence Cause Death of a Person?

Urinary incontinence is not associated with the death of a person. However, a condition can affect the quality of life of a person. For example, urinary inconsistency may lead to social isolation, feelings of rejection, loss of control, dependency, and restricted social interactions and activities. This affects their mental health and develops problems with body image.


Can Bladder Leak Into the Kidneys?

The bladder leaks into the kidneys due to vesicoureteral reflux caused when the flap valves in both ureters stop working. This leads to the backflow of urine from the bladder into the kidneys, usually prevented by the flap valves. This causes infection of the kidneys and also may lead to kidney damage.


Does Urine Leak Into the Prostate?

The urine can leak into the prostate gland beneath the urinary bladder in males. The tube that carries urine out of the body passes through this gland, which may block the urine flow due to its overgrowth. The prostate gland can keep growing throughout life in most men.


How Does Leaky Gut Get Diagnosed?

A leaky gut can be diagnosed in the following ways:
 - Food Sensitivity Tests (IgG Food Antibodies) - This helps to detect the physiologic response of the immune system to various food exposures.
 - Intestinal Permeability (Lactulose Mannitol) - It is done with the help of non-metabolizable probe molecules from the human gut or bacteria in the gut, which can be found in the urine after getting absorbed in the systemic circulation.
 - Zonulin Test - The serological marker test is used to diagnose leaky gut syndrome by assessing the integrity of the intestinal mucosal barrier.


Is Urinary Incontinence Common in Elderly People?

Urinary incontinence is common in older adults, especially women, due to an overactive bladder. The condition is common in 77 percent of pregnant women and about 20 percent of all women. Urinary incontinence is a very distressing and common complaint in older adults.


Is Urine Leakage a Common Condition?

Urine leakage or urine incontinence is a common complaint of older adults, most commonly women. The problem usually increases with age, and people often feel embarrassed and ashamed due to loss of bladder control. It not only affects their quality of life but also impacts their social interactions.


Can a Leaky Bladder Cause Urinary Tract Infection?

A leaky bladder or urinary incontinence can cause repeated urinary tract infections in a person. The condition is most common in women who may experience vaginal irritation, pain, infection, or constipation.


Is Urinary Incontinence After Prostate Surgery a Common Condition?

Urinary incontinence is common in six to eight percent of men who undergo prostate surgery. However, a person can regain bladder control approximately three to 18 months post-prostate surgery.


How Does Urinary Incontinence Affect a Person’s Daily Life?

Urinary incontinence affects a person’s daily life in many ways. It causes social isolation, reduces the quality of life, and impacts mental, physical, sexual, familial, and occupational aspects of life. A person starts getting feelings of rejection from society and thus develops a poor image of themselves.
Dr. Samer Sameer Juma Ali Altawil
Dr. Samer Sameer Juma Ali Altawil



leaky bladderurinary incontinence
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