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What Is Urge Incontinence?


Updated April 15, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What Is Urge Incontinence?
Answer: Do you ever get a sudden, uncontrollable urge to urinate? Then you may have a type of urinary incontinence called urge incontinence. The key symptom of urge incontinence is a sudden urge to urinate, followed by urination. This is frequently embarrassing to the person who suffers from it, since urination can happen anytime and anywhere.

The most frequent cause of urge incontinence is bladder spasms that occur at the wrong times. The cause of these out-of-tune bladder spasms may be out-of-sync nerve signals that occur because of nerve damage or damage to the muscles of the bladder; this can occur because of injury (possibly surgical injury) or disease.

Diseases that can lead to urge incontinence include:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Multiple sclerorosis
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Stroke
  • Thyroid disease
  • Uncontrolled diabetes

Unfortunately, having urge incontinence means you may lose control of your bladder while you sleep. While it seems to make sense that you could avoid nighttime urinary incontinence by limiting your intake of fluids before bed, the fact is that even the smallest drink of water may lead to loss of bladder control. Just the sound of water -- the drip of a leaky faucet, a running dishwasher or shower -- leads many women with urge incontinence to lose bladder control.

Other potential causes or contributors to urge incontinence include certain medications, such as diuretics. Diuretics are one of the three types of medications often used to treat high blood pressure. The class of anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines (drugs such as Valium, Ativan, and Xanax) may lead to urge incontinence in some women.

If you believe that you may have urge incontinence, or if you think your medications may be contributing to your bladder control problems, talk to your physician. The good news is that urge incontinence is treatable.


Urinary Incontinence In Women. NIDDK / NIH. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/uiwomen/. Accessed 04/13/10.

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