What are the Types and Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence?
1) Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI)
You may experience involuntary urinary leakage during physical exertion, such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, jumping, running, or exercising. This form of urinary leakage is defined as stress urinary incontinence or SUI. Those with more severe SUI may also leak with less strenuous actions such as brisk walking. The increased intra-abdominal pressure momentarily overwhelms the ability of your urethral (the tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the body) sphincter muscles to stay closed, resulting in urine leakage that can range from a few drops to more significant amounts soaking through pads, underpants or even clothes.
SUI may occur when your pelvic floor muscles, which support your pelvic organs in terms of anatomy and function, are weakened or traumatised. Pregnancy, childbirth (especially vaginal births), nerve damage, chronic cough etc., are major risk factors that weaken one’s pelvic floor. Due to differences in pelvic anatomy and certain risk factors unique to women, SUI is more commonly encountered in ladies than men.
2) Urge Urinary Incontinence (UUI)
You experience involuntary urinary leakage preceded by an urgent, uncontrollable need to urinate, which is difficult to defer. Most commonly, women describe experiencing a strong urge and not being able to make it to the toilet in time before urinary leakage occurs. This phenomenon is known as urge urinary incontinence, or UUI for short.
This is different and often confused with another condition of having an overactive bladder (OAB), where one feels the urge to pass urine frequently and goes to the toilet often. Although some women with OAB also experience UUI, not every woman with OAB has UUI, i.e. the latter typically can control urinary leakage until after they reach the toilet.
In normal circumstances, when a healthy bladder is full, the brain signals the bladder muscles to contract whilst simultaneously getting the urethral sphincter and pelvic floor muscles to relax, resulting in the passage of urine. In cases of OAB, the bladder muscles are overly active and start contracting even before the bladder is full, resulting in you perceiving a strong, urgent need to visit the toilet. The cause of OAB can be temporary, e.g. in cases of urinary tract infection (UTIs), or can be caused by damage to the neurological system, e.g. older age, long-standing diabetes, stroke, multiple sclerosis, dementia etc. It can also be exacerbated by weak pelvic floor tone, certain medications (e.g. blood pressure or heart drugs that reduce fluid accumulation within the body), or excessive caffeine/ sugar/ salt/ preservatives/ alcohol intake.
Women with severe cases of OAB and/or UUI can face significant hindrances to their daily work, social life, sleep and exercise as they find themselves planning their lives and routines around proximity to the bathroom. Over time, this could eventually take a toll on interpersonal relationships with friends, family and loved ones, leaving one with low self-esteem, poor body image, stress over potential “accidents”, or even depression.
3) Mixed Incontinence (SUI and UUI)
You experience involuntary urinary leakage that is preceded by an urgent, uncontrollable need to urinate and physical exertion. In most cases, there will be one form of incontinence that bothers you more (i.e. SUI more than UUI, or vice versa).
4) Overflow Incontinence
You frequently urinate in small amounts with no bladder sensation and no perception of your bladder being full. The bladder is often incompletely emptied due to certain medical conditions, and the nerves supplying the bladder get irreversibly damaged over time. This type of incontinence is more common in men than women as they are at higher risk of having a bladder outlet obstruction due to prostate issues.