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Types of Female Urinary Incontinence

Incontinence is an involuntary loss of urine caused by problems with the bladder or its nerves; the pelvic floor muscles; or the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the body. 

At NYU Langone, our doctors treat all causes of incontinence, including stress and urgency incontinence—the 2 most common types of female urinary incontinence, which affect more than half of women over age 65. Many women have both types of incontinence.

Stress Incontinence

Stress incontinence is the most common type of incontinence in women, and it can worsen with age. It occurs when increases in abdominal pressure caused by coughing, sneezing, exercising, or picking up heavy objects affects weakened pelvic floor muscles and causes urine to leak. 

Aging, childbirth, or obesity can weaken the muscles around the urethra and cause urine to escape.

Urgency Incontinence

Urgency incontinence is a loss of bladder control that is associated with a strong need—or urge—to urinate. Often, the bladder can’t hold urine long enough for a woman to reach the toilet. 

A symptom of overactive bladder syndrome, which typically also involves an increase in the frequency of urination, sometimes at night, urgency incontinence is associated with involuntary bladder contractions or spasms. The causes of acute—short-term and intense—urgency incontinence may include bladder inflammation or infection. The cause of long-term, or chronic, symptoms is not always known.

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