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Urinary Incontinence Basics

What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is losing urine when you don’t want to. It’s important to know that urine loss is not normal, not even in older adults. Help is available for urine loss.  It is not a disease. It is a sign of problems in the urinary tract or in the nerves that connect the urinary tract to the spinal cord and brain.

Some conditions of urinary incontinence are temporary, while others may last for a longer time. Incontinence can lead to hygiene and/or social problems.

How common is it?

Urine loss is a very common problem. It’s most common in people age 65 and older. It can affect you, whether you’re a woman or a man, but it occurs 3 times more often in women than in men. Only 1 in 12 people who has this condition seeks medical help.

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling a strong need or desire to pass urine — it comes on very quickly with no warning
  • Going to the bathroom often, more often than every 2 hours
  • Getting up at night more than 2 times to pass urine
  • Limiting fluid intake to try to avoid urine leaks
  • Worrying about going places for fear of leaking urine

Are there types of urine loss?

Urine loss is not the same for everyone who has it. There are 3 main types:


Having sudden urges to pass urine, frequently needing to pass urine, getting up at night to pass urine, and leaking urine


Leaking urine during physical activity, such as: sneezing, coughing, bending, lifting, laughing, and jumping


Passing only small amounts of urine, feeling the bladder is full, feeling the bladder is not empty, and often leaking small amounts of urine

What is the cause?

Urine loss has many possible causes. To learn the cause of your problem, you need to see a doctor for an evaluation.

What treatments are available?

After your doctor evaluates the symptoms, several treatments are available to help. Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Doing bladder training exercises
  • Scheduling bathroom trips
  • Changing fluid intakes throughout the day
  • Changing medicine (sometimes)
  • Surgery 

Remember: Urine loss is not normal and can be helped.

To learn more

To learn more, call the University of Pittsburgh Institute on Aging at 1-866-430-8742, or visit the Web at

Revised September 2011

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Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

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