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Common Bladder Problems

There are many different types of bladder problems, ranging from needing to rush to the toilet, to wetting the bed or leaking urine when exercising. If this is affecting your day-to-day life and social activities, you should speak to your GP or local continence service. Here are the most common types and their possible causes. Stress and urge incontinence account for nine out of ten cases of urinary incontinence.


Stress Incontinence

Stress incontinence is when you leak urine whenever you laugh, cough or sneeze. Some people might find that exercise, even gentle exercise such as walking, and heavy lifting, causes leakage. This type of incontinence is more common in women and is caused by damage to the pelvic floor muscles or sphincter, making them too weak to keep the urethra closed.

Women are susceptible to this type of incontinence as both childbirth and the menopause can affect the way these muscles normally work. Men may develop stress incontinence after a prostate operation. Being overweight can also cause stress incontinence as it puts added strain on these muscles.


Urge Incontinence

If you consistently need to rush to the toilet as soon as you need to pass urine, this is known as urge incontinence. Sometimes it is triggered by a urine infection or a neurological condition which stops your brain from telling the bladder to hold on until you get to a toilet.

Many people find that as they get older, their bladder becomes more unpredictable and gives less warning when they need to pass urine. You may also find that you need to go to the toilet more often and get up several times during the night. Seek help if this becomes a problem or causes incontinence.

It is not uncommon to have the symptoms of both stress and urge incontinence.


Overactive Bladder Syndrome (OAB)

This is similar to urge incontinence. If you have OAB, you will have an urgent and frequent need to pass urine although this does not always result in incontinence.


Overflow Incontinence

Overflow incontinence happens when the bladder doesn’t empty completely, and so it feels full all the time. Urine builds up and leaks out. If you have overflow incontinence, you may have difficulty passing urine when you want to.

This type of incontinence can be caused by severe constipation, diabetes, or conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or stroke which can make the bladder less efficient at emptying.

For men, it can also be caused by an enlarged prostate gland.


Functional Incontinence

Some people become incontinent for practical reasons. This could be because they have walking difficulties and cannot get to the toilet in time, or need time to get their clothes out of the way. People with conditions such as arthritis, Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis may suffer from incontinence due to mobility issues.



It is normal for older people to get up once or twice in the night to pass urine. However, if you regularly need to do this more than several times it can become not only annoying but also very tiring. This is called nocturia and it is important to discuss it with your GP or district nurse.


More Information

You can find more detailed information on these conditions and what can cause them on the NHS Choices website.

For information on what to do if you experience any of these problems, go to Ways to help yourself or Where to get help on this website.

For a more detailed overview of how your bladder works, please visit our How the bladder works page.