What is urge incontinence?

Gladys Y. Ng, MD
When people have urge incontinence they feel like they have to go to the bathroom all the time. Sometimes, the urge to go comes so suddenly that they cannot make it to the toilet in time. The muscles of the bladder spasm and can't hold the urine in. A leak is usually described as "sudden and cannot be stopped." Causes of urge incontinence are infections, tumors or just general nerve problems that cause the bladder to be overactive.
Ja-Hong Kim, MD
Urge incontinence is the feeling of being caught in a line, and you’re dying because you just can’t bear another minute. It’s precipitated by a sense of urgency, which is a difficult sensation before urination. You'll have what's called an involuntary contraction, which is not a void that your brain wanted or you allow yourself to do, but rather the bladder saying, "I’m too full. I can’t hold it anymore. I’m going to go." The cause of urge incontinence is largely unknown, but has to do in some part with aging of the bladder and changes to the nerves of the bladder.
Urge urinary incontinence is a disorder of the bladder muscle, says Jayram Krishnan, DO, a urologist at Sunrise Hospital. In this video, he describes how this leads to the leaking of urine and how it is treatable with medication.
Urge incontinence is involuntary leakage associated with a sudden compelling desire to void. Urge incontinence is urine leakage that occurs because of involuntary contraction of the bladder. It is associated with the feeling of not being able to get to the bathroom fast enough. Sometimes there is no warning before leakage occurs, and other times leakage happens in response to drinking, or hearing or touching running water. The urge and subsequent leakage can occur even when the bladder is holding only a small amount of urine. Urge incontinence is a symptom of overactive bladder and can be accompanied by urinary frequency, urgency, and/or waking up during the night to urinate.  Initial treatments include bladder retraining, medications, avoidance of dietary irritants, pelvic floor physical therapy. When conservative therapies fail to provide significant relief, other options include Botox into the bladder, a pacemaker device for the bladder called InterStim, or percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation. Prior to proceeding with these advanced therapies, a urodynamic study may be obtained.  

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Marc B. Garnick, MD
Hematology & Oncology
Urge incontinence is one of the three main types of urinary incontinence. It occurs when the bladder develops a spasm, and suddenly contracts and expels urine. Some people with urge incontinence find that retraining the bladder is effective. This technique involves increasing the storage capacity of the bladder by learning to suppress sudden urges to urinate and by prolonging the interval between urinations.
Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine
The most common types of urinary incontinence are urge incontinence, overflow incontinence, stress incontinence and functional incontinence. Urge incontinence is caused by hyperactivity of the detrusor muscle, the large pumping muscle of the wall of the bladder. People with this form of incontinence are not able to make it to the restroom in time to urinate. There are several conditions that may cause urge incontinence, including stroke, diabetes, overactive bladder and Alzheimer's disease.
Urge incontinence occurs when you feel the pressing need to urinate but cannot get to the bathroom in time. Usually it results from damage to the nerve passages along the pathway from the bladder to the brain. This causes a sudden bladder contraction that cannot be controlled.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Urge incontinence is a sudden, strong urge to urinate and, often, an inability to make it to the toilet. With urge incontinence, your bladder contracts excessively giving you little warning and leading to embarrassing accidents. It can be caused by a number of factors including urinary infections, bowel problems, strokes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and other neurological conditions. If there is no obvious cause, the term for it is overactive bladder.

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Jill Rabin
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)

Urge incontinence, or overactive bladder, refers to the frequent, uncomfortable and uncontrollable sensation that urination is imminent and cannot be postponed for more than a few minutes and, in some cases, may cause leakage of urine. Although this seems to happen suddenly and for no reason there are triggers that may cause this including as you approach your front door (called the 'key-in-lock' syndrome), the sound of running water or running your hands under water (frequently cold water) and upon drinking small amounts of liquid. People who experience this may also be wakened by this sensation and void often at night.
Urge incontinence is one of the most frequent causes of incontinence. The bladder normally contracts at an appropriate time (when the bladder is full and you feel the urge to urinate) and warns the urethra first (to give you time to get to the bathroom and more control over your bladder). With urge incontinence the bladder does not warn the urethra, and the urine just 'comes out' with the sensation of a sudden urge, or bladder contraction.  Although the exact cause may not be known in all cases, in some instances this may be due to a bladder infection (UTI), inflammation or polyp and in these instances the leakage may be temporary once the cause is found and treated.


Kevin W. Windom, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)

Urgency incontinence is when a person has the overwhelming sensation to urinate and is unable to make it to the restroom.  Urgency incontinence is caused by bladder spasms.  When one's bladder is full, they have the overwhelming urgency to urinate, and when the bladder starts to spasm, the urethra relaxes and urine leaks out.  Most women with urgency incontinence do not leak just small amounts of urine, they leak large amounts of urine.  Urgency incontinence is commonly treated with frequent voiding as well as dietary changes.  Some people with urgency incontinence have an increase in bladder spasms when they drink caffeine, carbonated drinks, or any type of citrus drinks.  Urgency incontinence can also be treated with medications that help relax the bladder, but these medications are known to have side effects such as constipation and severe dry mouth.  Lastly, people with severe urgency incontinence can be treated with a procedure called InterStim, which is a surgical procedure where electrodes are placed through the sacrum to help desensitize the nerves going to the bladder and helping to relax the bladder and decrease bladder spasms.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.