About Bladder Health

Recognizing the Underlying Causes of Urinary Incontinence

What could be causing urinary incontinence for the person in my care? By recognizing causes of urinary incontinence you will be better able to identify the type of incontinence the person is experiencing. Here are some of the most common issues that can cause urinary incontinence.

Types of Urinary Incontinence

What type of urinary incontinence is the person I am caring for experiencing? By knowing how to identify different types of urinary incontinence you will be better prepared to:

  • consider appropriate strategies to manage it
  • have conversations with the person in your care
  • have more detailed conversations with a health care professional

The following table shows six types of urinary incontinence and their common causes.

TypeMost Common Cause
FunctionalNot being able to get to the bathroom on time due to reasons other than the bladder or urinary system (e.g. problems walking, problems with memory/thinking, medications, etc.).
TransientCaused by other health issues going on in the body that can be easily treated if recognized (e.g. urinary tract infection).
StressCaused by weak muscles in the urinary system and sudden exertion (e.g. sneezing, coughing, laughing, etc.).
UrgeSudden or urgent need to urinate caused by issues with the bladder (e.g. an infection).
OverflowCaused by an overly full bladder as a result of a blockage (e.g. constipation) or weak bladder muscles.
TotalComplete loss of bladder control commonly caused by neurological health conditions (e.g. spinal cord damage, multiple sclerosis, etc.).
Adapted from RGP of Toronto. (2018). SF7 Toolkit. Retrieved from: https://www.rgptoronto.ca/resources/

What about bowel incontinence and constipation?

Bowel incontinence is the involuntary loss of stool from the bowel and is much less common than urinary incontinence. Although this module specifically focuses on urinary incontinence, the Canadian Continence Foundation does have bowel incontinence resources that you can find on their website.

Constipation is when a bowel movement is less frequent, difficult to pass, and often hard or dry. For a simple way to gauge if the person in your care is constipated, look at the Bristol Stool Chart.

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