Incontinence

Medical Specialties: Pediatrics, Urology


Clinical Definition

Incontinence is the loss of voluntary control of bowel movements or urination. Incontinence is a symptom or condition, rather than a disease, and can be caused by a variety of different processes, including damage to the sphincter muscles, anal surgery, certain medications, systemic diseases, chemotherapy or conditions that affect the functioning of the nervous system.


In Our Own Words

Incontinence is the inability to control urination or bowel movements and can range in severity. Incontinence occurs for a variety of different reasons, and it is important to distinguish between fecal vs. urinary incontinence, incontinence in children vs. adults, men vs. women, and whether due to overflow, aging, or other causes. Incontinence may arise from damage to the muscles that control urine and bowel release, known as the sphincter muscles; an overactive bladder, where the bladder muscles exert a force strong enough to release urine; or the cause can be multi-factorial. In older women, urinary incontinence may be related to physiologic changes in the lower urinary tract; likewise, in older men, prostate disease can lead to urinary incontinence.
Stress incontinence occurs when a sneeze or cough increases pressure on the bladder causing it to leak urine. Exercises to strengthen the muscles that control the urethra and bladder are often recommended, and drugs are also available for treatment. In some cases, surgery may be appropriate.

Relevant Conditions
  • Overactive bladder
  • Prostate disease
  • Encopresis
  • Enuresis
Common Types
  • Bowel/fecal incontinence
  • Urge incontinence / overactive bladder
  • Stress incontinence
Side Effects
  • Inability to control bowel movements/urination
  • Soiling of underwear or bedding
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