What Is Overflow Incontinence?


Overflow incontinence is one of the 5 types of incontinence that can affect women. It is less common than stress incontinence, urge incontinence or mixed incontinence (which is a combination of stress and urge incontinence).

Overflow incontinence affects both men and women. In fact, it is more common in men. But in this article we’ll focus on female overflow incontinence. 

Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder fails to empty fully during peeing (an unsteady, dribble-like flow of urine is a telltale sign). Because your kidneys continually produce urine, not emptying your bladder can lead it to overflow later, without warning.

What Are the Symptoms of Overflow Incontinence?

All urinary incontinence is characterized by involuntary urine leakage. But there are different kinds of urinary incontinence and while the result is the same, they may manifest differently.

It may be difficult for a non-medical professional to differentiate between the different kinds of incontinence. But overflow incontinence has some notable characteristics, including:

  • An unsteady, dribble-like flow of urine
  • A stream of urine that stops and starts during peeing
  • Feeling that your bladder is full even after you urinate
  • Leaking urine while asleep
  • Difficulty urinating even when you need to go
  • Frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs)

If you experience any of the above and involuntary urine leakage, you may be experiencing overflow incontinence. However, a doctor should be able to give you a certain diagnosis.

What Causes Overflow Incontinence?

Overflow incontinence has a few different possible causes. You will need to work with your doctor to determine the exact kind of incontinence you are experiencing, as well as the particular cause of it.

Some of the possible causes of overflow incontinence include:


Blockages in the urinary tract or urethra can often be the cause of overflow incontinence. Blockages can be caused by unusual growths, stones, scar tissue or swelling. Blockages can also be caused by other surgeries which may cause the bladder to drop in the abdomen.  

Weak Bladder Muscles

Overflow incontinence can be caused by weak bladder muscles, which are unable to squeeze the bladder empty. Bladder muscles (and pelvic floor muscles more generally) can be weakened by childbirth, pregnancy, or by surgery.

Underactive Bladder

Underactive bladder (UAB) is defined by the International Continence Society as a symptom complex characterized by a slow urinary stream, hesitancy, and straining to void, with or without a feeling of incomplete bladder emptying sometimes with storage symptoms. (Source)

Nerve Damage

Diseases like diabetes, alcoholism, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) can cause nerve damage that affects the ability to sense a full bladder, or that reduces the ability of the bladder to contract.

Medications and Other Conditions

Certain medications, in particular anticonvulsants and antidepressants, may affect signals to the bladder.

Overflow Incontinence Can Also Result in Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

In addition to the distress this kind of sudden incontinence can cause, it also puts you at risk for urinary tract infections. This is because urine should be expelled from the body, but if you don't empty the bladder, the urine that remains can become a breeding ground for bacteria.

What Tests Will My Doctor Perform to Diagnose Overflow Incontinence?

Your doctor will consult your medical history, ask you a number of questions to diagnose overflow incontinence and will likely perform certain tests.

To help you prepare for the appointment, it’s worth making some notes in the days leading up to your appointment, including:

  • How frequently you use the bathroom
  • Whether it’s difficult for you to start or stop peeing
  • If there are certain activities that result in urine leakage
  • Any pain or burning sensation when peeing
  • A list of current medications and supplements

Tests your doctor may perform could include:

  • A bladder stress test, to see if you leak pee when coughing or exerting yourself (read more about stress incontinence here)
  • Urinalysis to check your urine for infection or evidence of kidney stones
  • Catheterization after you’ve used the bathroom to see if there is still urine left in the bladder 
  • Ultrasound to measure how much urine the bladder holds when full and after you empty the bladder

If these tests are unclear, your doctor may order further tests be conducted.

How Is Overflow Incontinence Treated in Women?

The treatment for overflow incontinence will differ depending on the cause. If, for example, a blockage is found, you may require surgery or other treatment to remove that blockage.  

If your bladder muscles are weakened, your doctor may recommend bladder training. This involves taking bathroom breaks at regularly timed intervals. By ensuring your bladder is emptied frequently, you minimize the chances of leakages. Over time, the time between breaks can be increased. 

Women with overflow incontinence can also be treated with a catheter, either intermittent self-inserted, or continuous catheterization.

While medications are available to treat overflow incontinence in men, medication is rarely used to treat overflow incontinence in women. However, if overflow incontinence is a side effect of medications, you can work with your doctor to implore alternatives without side effects.

Overflow incontinence is a difficult type of incontinence to treat. While you explore treatment options with your healthcare provider, you can also explore products to help you stay active and social. Leakproof underwear comes with different absorbency levels, that can hold up to 8 tsp of pee. 

Super absorbent Knix leakproof underwear can hold up to 8 tsp of liquid (whether that’s sweat, blood or urine). Products like these can be a game changer for those experiencing female urinary incontinence, allowing them to remain active and social while exploring treatment options.