What is Urinary Incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control. This type of pelvic floor disorder is very common and affects many women of all ages. Unfortunately, many women are embarrassed and do not discuss their symptoms, even with their doctors. Up to one in three women suffer from urinary incontinence. Some women develop urinary incontinence after childbirth, while others may develop it later in life. The symptoms associated with urinary incontinence can vary in severity. Lifestyle changes or medical treatment can help treat urinary incontinence in many women, but when those treatment options do not adequately control a woman’s symptoms, there are a variety of procedural and minimally invasive surgical options which are very effective at eliminating symptoms.

Types of urinary incontinence

  • Stress urinary incontinence: The most common type of incontinence, stress urinary incontinence is urine leakage during exercise, coughing, sneezing, laughing, or lifting heavy objects. Stress urinary incontinence can also occur when other body movements put pressure on the bladder. This type of incontinence occurs when the muscle that acts to keep the urethra closed during times of increased abdominal pressure does not function well anymore and allows urine to leak during those instances.
  • Urgency urinary incontinence (overactive bladder): This refers to urine leakage associated with an urgency to urinate. This type of urinary incontinence occurs when the bladder contracts without warning causing urinary leakage.
  • Mixed incontinence: This type of incontinence implies that a patient’s symptoms of urinary leakage are due to a combination of stress and urgency urinary incontinence types.
  • Functional incontinence: This is urine leakage that occurs when a patient cannot reach a restroom in time because of physical conditions that limit their mobility such as arthritis.
  • Overflow incontinence: This is urine leakage that occurs when the quantity of urine produced exceeds that bladder’s capacity to hold it.

Northwestern Medicine urogynecologists offer comprehensive evaluations and treatment options for women with urinary incontinence, and they offer both conservative and surgical options. Our urogynecologists are committed to providing individualized care for every woman. They are all fellowship-trained and/or board-certified specialists in the field of urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery, and oftentimes serve on the faculty at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.