Symptoms & Causes of Bladder Control Problems (Urinary Incontinence)

In this section:

What are the symptoms of bladder control problems?

Signs and symptoms of urinary incontinence can include

  • leaking urine during everyday activities, such as lifting, bending, coughing, or exercising
  • feeling a sudden, strong urge to urinate right away
  • leaking urine without any warning or urge
  • being unable to reach a toilet in time
  • wetting your bed during sleep
A group of adults applaud at a meeting.
You may have bladder control problems if you limit your activities in fear of not making it to a bathroom in time.

When should I see a health care professional?

See a health care professional if you have symptoms of a bladder problem, such as trouble urinating, a loss of bladder control, waking to use the bathroom, pelvic pain, or leaking urine.

Bladder problems can affect your quality of life and cause other health problems. Your doctor may be able to help you treat your UI by recommending a lifestyle change or a change in how much medicine you normally take.

See a health care professional if you

  • can’t pass urine or empty your bladder
  • urinate too often—8 or more bathroom visits a day—also called frequency
  • see blood in the urine, also called hematuria
  • have bladder infection symptoms, including painful urination

These symptoms can signal a serious health problem, including inflammation of the bladder, also called cystitis, or even bladder cancer.

What causes bladder control problems in women?

Certain life events and health problems can lead to stress incontinence in women by weakening the pelvic floor muscles

Weak pelvic floor muscles can make it hard for your bladder to keep urine in during stress incontinence. Stress incontinence occurs when some of your movements—coughing, sneezing, laughing, or physical activity—put pressure on your bladder and cause urine to leak. A weak pelvic floor can also cause fecal incontinence, or bowel control problems.

An outline of a female’s body showing the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra; along with a close-up illustration of a female’s urinary tract, including the bladder, ureters, pelvic floor muscles, and urethra.
Weak pelvic floors can cause your bladder to move downward and push slightly out of the bottom of your pelvis, causing urinary incontinence.

What causes bladder control problems in men?

Men sometimes develop UI along with prostate problems.

Prostate problems

Men have a prostate gland that surrounds the opening of the bladder. The prostate gets bigger as a man ages. When the prostate gets too big but isn’t cancerous, a man has a condition called prostate enlargement, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Men with an enlarged prostate may have

  • problems with starting to urinate
  • a slow urine stream
  • problems fully emptying the bladder

Men who have a history of prostate cancer may have short-term or long-term UI. The cancer can damage or block the urinary tract. Or, the surgery, radiation, or other prostate cancer treatments can lead to nerve damage, bladder spasms, or stress incontinence. Bladder control problems after prostate cancer can get better over time.

An outline of a male’s body showing the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra; along with a close-up illustration of a male’s urinary tract, including the bladder, ureters, prostate, pelvic floor muscles, and urethra.
When the prostate gets too big, it can squeeze the ureter, making it hard to start urinating. You also may have a slow urine stream or be unable to completely empty your bladder.

What else causes bladder control problems in women and men?

Other health problems, including those with your nervous system, and lifestyle factors can cause or contribute to urinary incontinence (UI) in women and men.

Health changes and problems

Certain health changes and problems can lead to urinary incontinence

Some health problems can be short-term, like coughing or constipation, and can cause temporary incontinence. When a disability or a problem speaking or thinking keeps you from reaching a toilet in time, you have functional incontinence.

Problems with your nervous system are common causes of UI. UI can occur when your brain doesn’t tell the right part of your urinary tract—usually the bladder, the sphincters, or both—to do its job.

Bladder nerves and muscles can be damaged or affected by

Triggers of urinary incontinence can include drinking or touching water, hearing running water, or being in a cold environment, such as reaching into the freezer at the grocery store.

Lifestyle factors

Lifestyle factors that make women and men more likely to develop UI include

  • eating habits, such as eating foods that cause constipation
  • drinking habits, such as drinking alcohol or caffeinated or carbonated beverages
  • certain medicines
  • physical inactivity
  • smoking

Temporary incontinence is usually a side effect of a medicine or short-term health condition. Temporary incontinence can also be a result of eating habits, including alcohol or caffeine use.

Last Reviewed June 2018

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.