Bladder Control Problems


What Men Need To Know

Men can have several types of bladder control problems.

Urinary incontinence (UI) is the accidental leakage of urine. Urine can leak in three ways:

  • when you cough, sneeze, or lift—actions that put pressure on the bladder
  • following a sudden, strong urge to urinate
  • as a constant dribbling; men with this problem usually need to urinate often and only pass small amounts of urine each time.

Overactive bladder is a condition in which the bladder squeezes urine out at the wrong time. You may have overactive bladder if you have two or more of these symptoms:

  • urination eight or more times a day or two or more times at night
  • the sudden, strong need to urinate immediately
  • urine leakage that follows a sudden, strong urge to urinate

What causes bladder control problems in men?

UI and overactive bladder may be caused by prostate or nerve problems. Sometimes the cause of overactive bladder is not clear.

Prostate problems. The prostate is a male gland about the size of a walnut that surrounds the urethra, the tube that carries urine and semen out of the body.

  • An enlarged prostate, common among older men, may squeeze the urethra and result in a weak urine stream, an urgent need to urinate followed by leakage, and frequent urination, especially at night.
  • Surgery or radiation to treat prostate cancer can lead to temporary or permanent bladder control problems.

Nerve problems. Damaged nerves may send signals to the bladder at the wrong time or send no signals at all, leading to bladder control problems. Spinal cord injuries or conditions such as diabetes or stroke may cause nerve problems.


What can I do about bladder control problems?

Just changing some daily habits may help. For example, you could limit fluids at certain times of the day or plan regular trips to the bathroom to avoid an accident.

Don’t be embarrassed to talk with your doctor about your problem. Your doctor may prescribe medicine to calm abnormal nerve signals to the bladder. Other medicines relax the bladder or shrink the prostate. Surgery can help bladder control problems caused by nerve damage.

Frequent or painful urination, especially with blood in the urine, could be signs of bladder cancer. If you have these symptoms, see your doctor.


What Women Need To Know

  • About half of adult women say they have had urine leakage at one time or another. Many women say the problem occurs daily.
  • Often women leak urine when they are pregnant or after they have given birth.
  • Women who have stopped having their periods—menopause—often report bladder control problems.
  • Many women leak urine when they exercise, laugh hard, cough, or sneeze.

What causes bladder control problems in women?

Urine leakage has many possible causes.

  • Weak muscles. Most bladder control problems are caused by weak pelvic muscles—the muscles that hold the bladder in place. These muscles may become stretched and weak during pregnancy and childbirth. The sphincters—muscles that keep the bladder closed until you urinate—may also be weakened.
  • Nerve damage. Damaged nerves may send signals to the bladder at the wrong time, causing the bladder to push out urine without warning. Or damaged nerves send no signals at all, so the brain can’t tell when the bladder is full. Trauma or diseases such as diabetes can cause nerve damage.
  • Medicines, alcohol, and caffeine. Leaking can happen when medicines or alcohol affect the nerves or muscles. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee or cola cause the bladder to fill quickly, which may cause the bladder to leak.
  • Infection. A urinary tract infection can irritate bladder nerves and cause the bladder to squeeze without warning.
  • Excess weight. Being overweight can put pressure on the bladder and contribute to leakage.

What can I do about bladder control problems?

Just changing some daily habits may help. If you tend to leak urine at certain times of the day, you can make trips to the bathroom ahead of time to avoid an accident. If you notice that certain foods and drinks cause you to urinate more often, try avoiding them.

Don’t be embarrassed to talk with your doctor about your problem. Your doctor may prescribe a medicine that can calm muscles and nerves to treat an overactive bladder. If your leakage is caused by weak muscles, your doctor or nurse can help you learn to do exercises to strengthen your pelvic muscles. Or your doctor may fit you with a device worn in the vagina that helps lift the bladder. If other treatments fail, your doctor may suggest surgery to improve bladder control.

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