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Urinary incontinence is a common problem that affects millions of people.

Having urinary incontinence means you pee by accident.

When and how this happens depends on the type of urinary incontinence you have.

Non-urgent advice: Talk to your GP if:

  • you have urinary incontinence

This can be the first step towards finding a way to manage this common problem.

Common types of urinary incontinence

Most people with urinary incontinence have either stress incontinence or urge incontinence.

Stress incontinence

Stress incontinence is when you leak pee when pressure is put on your bladder. For example, when you cough. Stress incontinence is not linked to feeling stressed.

Other activities that may cause pee to leak include:

  • sneezing
  • laughing
  • heavy lifting
  • exercise

The amount of pee passed is usually small. But stress incontinence can sometimes cause you to pass larger amounts. This can happen if your bladder is very full.

Urge incontinence

Urge incontinence is when you feel a sudden and intense need to pee, the bladder is placed under pressure and you're unable to delay going to the toilet. There's often only a few seconds between the need to pee and the release of urine.

Your need to pee may be caused by a sudden change of position. It can even be caused by the sound of running water. You may also pee during sex, particularly when you reach orgasm.

It often occurs as part of a group of symptoms called overactive bladder syndrome. This is where the bladder muscle is more active than usual.

Overactive bladder syndrome can also mean you need to pee often. You may need to get up several times during the night to pee.

Other types of urinary incontinence

These include:

Mixed incontinence

Mixed incontinence is when you have symptoms of both stress and urge incontinence.

For example, you may:

  • leak urine if you cough or sneeze
  • have very intense urges to pee

Overflow incontinence

Overflow incontinence is also called chronic urinary retention. It happens when the bladder cannot completely empty when you pee. This causes the bladder to swell above its usual size. This is because it is full of urine, causing small amounts of it to spill out.

If you have overflow incontinence, you may pass small trickles of urine very often. It may also feel as though your bladder is never fully empty and you cannot empty it even when you try.

Continuous incontinence

Urinary incontinence that's severe and continuous is sometimes known as continuous incontinence.

Continuous incontinence may cause you to regularly pee large amounts, even at night. You may also pee large amounts occasionally and leak small amounts in between.

Lower urinary tract symptoms

The lower urinary tract is the bladder and the urethra. The urethra is the tube through which pee passes out of the body.

Lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) are common in men and women as they get older.

Symptoms can include:

  • problems with storing urine
  • problems with peeing
  • problems after you pee

Problems with storing urine

This could be an urgent or frequent need to go to the toilet. It could be feeling like you need to go straight after you've just been.

Problems with peeing

These problems may include:

  • a slow stream of pee
  • straining to pee
  • stopping and starting as you pee

Problems after you pee

Feeling you've not emptied your bladder or passing a few drops of pee after you think you've finished.

Experiencing LUTS can make urinary incontinence more likely.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 10 August 2021
Next review due: 10 August 2024