What is overflow incontinence?
Overflow incontinence is the involuntary release of urine—due to a weak bladder muscle or to blockage—when the bladder becomes overly full, even though the person feels no urge to urinate.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of overflow incontinence include:
- The sudden release of urine.
- A feeling of fullness in the bladder even after urination.
- Leakage of urine while sleeping.
- A urine stream that stops and restarts during urination.
- Difficulty urinating even while feeling the urge to urinate.
What causes overflow incontinence?
Overflow incontinence in both men and women can be caused by:
- Conditions that affect the nerves (such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis) and alter a person's ability to sense bladder fullness or that reduce the ability of the bladder to contract.
- A blockage in the urinary tract, such as a bladder stone or a urinary tract tumor that constricts the urethra. When blockage occurs in men, it is usually caused by an enlarged prostate gland (benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH), cancer of the prostate, or a narrowing of the urethra.
- Weakness in the muscle that expels urine from the bladder (detrusor) so that it can't empty the bladder normally.
- Certain medicines.
How is it treated?
Women can be treated for overflow incontinence with:
- A catheter. A catheter is a thin, flexible tube that allows urine to drain out. It is inserted into the bladder through the urethra. Different types of catheters include:
- Intermittent self-catheterization: A woman inserts a clean catheter when it is necessary to urinate, usually 3 or 4 times a day.
- Indwelling Foley catheter: The catheter remains in place continuously. Urinary tract infections are more likely to occur with long-term use of an indwelling catheter than with intermittent self-catheterization.
- Surgery. Surgery may be needed to correct problems that cause overflow incontinence, such as obstructions or abnormal growths in the urinary tract.
Medicines are rarely used to treat overflow incontinence in women.
Men can be treated for overflow incontinence with:
- Surgery. Overflow incontinence caused by an enlarged prostate is often treated with surgery to remove the obstruction, including transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP), a common procedure used to treat BPH.
- A catheter. Some men may need a catheter to allow the bladder to empty normally.
- Medicine. Medicines can be used to make the prostate smaller. This relieves pressure on the urethra so the bladder can empty more normally. Medicines can also help the urine flow better.
Current as of: August 21, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Avery L. Seifert, MD, FACS - Urology