What Is Urge Incontinence


Urinary incontinence is not an easy experience for those who are affected. And it might surprise you to learn that that’s a substantial number of people. Pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause are major reasons for the higher prevalence of incontinence in women.

Indeed, 25 million adult Americans suffer from some form of urinary incontinence, with 75-80% of those are women (source). While stress incontinence is the most common type  of incontinence, urge incontinence is also very common. Learn more about the full framework of types of urinary incontinence here.

But what is urge incontinence? Let’s explore!

Urge Urinary Incontinence: An Overview

Urge incontinence is not considered a disease. But it can be a symptom of certain lifestyle choices or medical issues that may need to be addressed.

Urge incontinence manifests when there is a sudden and urgent need, or ‘urge’, to pee that seemingly comes out of nowhere. 

If this urgent need cannot be immediately acted upon, this feeling can lead to involuntary urine leakage of small amounts of urine. Urge incontinence may be a temporary or persistent experience depending on the cause.

Because of its sudden and unpredictable nature, urge incontinence and the resulting loss of urine may be exceptionally difficult to live with, causing a lot of stress for those who experience this loss of control.

A Note About Mixed Urinary Incontinence

Mixed incontinence is the second most common form of incontinence in women and it’s a combination of stress incontinence and urge incontinence. 

If you suspect you might be experiencing urge incontinence, or indeed any form of incontinence, we recommend discussing a diagnosis with your doctor. 

Causes of Urge Incontinence

Urge incontinence has a few different possible causes, which all point to different conditions and treatment options. So it’s important to work with your healthcare provider to understand what might be the underlying issue.

Bladder Infection or Stones

Temporary urge incontinence can be caused by a bladder infection, or bladder or kidney stones. In these cases, it will usually disappear once these conditions are treated, which will require a visit to your doctor.

These conditions are usually accompanied by other symptoms too. Those can include:

  • Pain in the pelvic region
  • Burning or pain with urination

If you experience any combination of these symptoms along with incontinence, consider a visit to your doctor to investigate the cause and to discuss treatment options.

An Overactive Bladder (OAB)

An involuntary loss of urine can also be caused by an overactive bladder (OAB) - though it’s important to note that this does not always cause incontinence and is not itself considered a disease.

According to the National Association for Incontinence about 17% of women and 16% men over 18 years old have overactive bladder (OAB) and an estimated 12.2 million adults have urge incontinence. 

An overactive bladder can be caused when the muscles in your bladder are too active. You may be able to manage symptoms of an overactive bladder with simple behavioral strategies, such as:

Dietary Changes 

Certain foods, including alcohol, caffeine and sugary or spicy foods can irritate the bladder causing an urgent need to urinate. Reducing consumption of these can help you regain bladder control.

Timed Voiding or Bladder Training

Bladder training can strengthen the  pelvic floor muscles. One method involves peeing at certain scheduled times each day and ignoring the urge to urinate at other times. The time between urinating can be increased as your muscles are strengthened and bladder control improves. Using this method, your ability to hold urine should improve with time.

Kegel (Pelvic Floor Muscle) Exercises

These exercises strengthen the pelvic muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. If you’re unsure how to do Kegel exercises, your doctor or physiotherapist can help you. But basically it’s like pretending you have to urinate and then holding it; you relax and tighten the muscles that control urine flow. 

Diseases of the Nervous System

Urge incontinence is sometimes not just a bladder problem, but it can point to a problem with how your brain and your bladder are communicating. There can be false messages that the bladder is full and needs emptying. Or “too late” messages that you need to urinate.

But because it also involves the brain, it can be linked to conditions like Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. 

Bladder Cancer

According to the Mayo Clinic, “most bladder cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, when the cancer is highly treatable.”

Other bladder cancer signs and symptoms may include:

  • Blood in urine, which may cause urine to appear bright red or cola colored, though 
  • Frequent urination
  • Painful urination
  • Back pain

When to Seek Medical Advice

Any “possible causes” list that includes any form of cancer is likely to send some readers into a panic. But don’t panic. These explanations are definitely not all equally weighted and it’s sometimes easy for us to gravitate to the scarier stuff on a list.

To help settle yourself, we recommend a visit to the doctor’s office. They’ll look at your medical history and ask questions about any other symptoms to point to the likely cause.

Some of the tests they might conduct include:

  • Pelvic floor exam: This will assess the strength of your pelvic floor muscles.
  • Urinalysis: This test will determine if there is a urinary tract infection (UTI).
  • Bladder ultrasound: To look at the anatomy of the bladder to determine how well the bladder is emptying.
  • Stress testing: Your healthcare provider will ask you to perform some of the activities that may cause involuntary urination (like coughing, exercise etc.)
  • ...and others

It’s worth noting that if you do not experience any other symptoms when you experience urge incontinence, there’s little risk associated with it, other than the inconvenience and anxiety caused by peeing involuntarily.

Treatments for Urge Incontinence

As we said at the beginning of the article, urge incontinence is not a disease. But it can be a symptom of something else going on.

As such, there isn’t one blanket solution to treat urge incontinence as the treatment option will depend on what’s causing you to leak urine. As previously explained, you may want to do Kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor. You can also manage the flow of urine and strengthen your urinary system with timed bathroom breaks.

However, some of the treatments you and your healthcare provider may discuss can include:

  • Biofeedback therapy: This seeks to give you greater awareness of your body’s physiological responses. 
  • Botox injections: Small amounts of Botox (botulinum toxin) can stop the bladder muscle from contracting too much.
  • Medications: Certain medications can be used to treat incontinence and help you control urination. Medications can be used to calm an overactive bladder or to relax the bladder muscle and can increase the amount of urine your bladder can hold.

In addition to medical treatments, your doctor may recommend some lifestyle changes that include diet, smoking or alcohol and caffeine consumption. Your general health and wellbeing will also benefit from these changes!

Many of the lifestyle changes and treatments recommended for urge incontinence will take time to have an effect. So, it’s also worth exploring ways to manage any leaks day-to-day. 

Super absorbent 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 urinary incontinence, allowing them to remain active and social while exploring treatment options.