Overflow Incontinence: Causes, Symptoms, and Management

Jessica Lubahn 9 min read

Overflow Incontinence: Causes, Symptoms, and Management

Incontinence happens. 

But do you know what’s causing it? 

With proper diagnosis, overflow incontinence can be treatable.

Here we'll talk about what overflow incontinence is, how it's different from other types of incontinence, and what can be done about it.

Table of Contents


What causes overflow incontinence

    What Is Overflow Incontinence?

    Overflow incontinence is the involuntary leaking of urine as the result of an overfull bladder. 

    When experiencing an overfull bladder, you may: 

    • Have trouble starting to urinate
    • Have trouble completely emptying your bladder; and
    • Feel the urge to urinate frequently because your bladder is full 

    Your urine flow may also be weak and slow, and you may find that you dribble after you finish urinating. Some people living with overflow incontinence leak often, even without noticing.

    When you can't vacate your bladder completely, the urine left in your bladder is a haven for bacteria to grow. This can lead to complications like urinary tract infections or renal failure.


    What Causes Overflow Incontinence?

    Some potential causes of overflow incontinence include:

    • Damaged nerve endings from conditions like diabetes and multiple sclerosis
    • Strictures from scar tissue or a tumor
    • Blockages in the urinary tract
    • Certain medications
    • Previous pelvic surgery
    • Severe prolapse of a women's bladder or uterus

    These things can lead to chronic urinary retention. When you are not able to fully empty your bladder, the muscles controlling it can become weak and lax.

    Not every cause of overflow incontinence is curable. For conditions such as blockages, which can be treated, it's important to talk to your health care provider to develop a treatment plan.

    The longer underlying conditions go untreated, the more likely it is for your bladder to lose the ability to function properly.

    What Are the Symptoms of Overflow Incontinence?

    If you find yourself leaking urine during the day, or wetting the bed at night, these are common symptoms of overflow incontinence.

    Overflow incontinence is more common at night. When you roll around in your sleep, you may be pushing on parts of your body which may lead to urinary leakage. 

    For example: 

    If your bladder is already full and your partner nudges you in the stomach during the night, your bladder is bound to leak. 

    Even twisting and turning can put pressure on your over-full bladder that may cause leakage.

    How Is Urinary Overflow Incontinence Diagnosed?

    Overflow incontinence can lead to serious health problems. By itself, it's not particularly dangerous. But, if left untreated, you can be more susceptible to:

    • Urinary tract infections
    • Renal failure
    • Blood in the urine

    To diagnose overflow incontinence, it's important to speak with your doctor. A part of the diagnostic process is identifying the cause of your overflow incontinence – which can change the treatment.

    Here are some things you can begin to track in the week before your appointment. Your doctor can use this information to discover the potential root cause:

    • How often do you urinate?
    • How much do you drink? 
    • What amount of urine are you producing?
    • Did you have the urge to urinate?
    • How many leaks do you have?

    Some further diagnostic tests can be used to determine if the type of incontinence you’re experiencing is truly overflow incontinence. These may include:

    • A cough or stress test that involves coughing while your doctor checks to see if you leak urine. 
    • A urine test to look for blood or signs of infection.
    • A urodynamics test to determine the capacity of your bladder and whether it can empty completely.
    • A prostate exam to check for an enlarged prostate in men.
    • A post-void test to see how much urine is left in your bladder after you go pee.


    what is overflow urinary incontinence

      Who Is at Risk of Suffering From Overflow Incontinence?

      Overflow incontinence is more common in people with conditions that destroy the nerve endings surrounding the bladder. This includes conditions such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis. 

      Blockages in the urinary tract caused by … 

      • Bladder stones
      • A urinary tract tumor that constricts the urethra
      • Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) also known as an emerged prostate gland

      … may also increase your risk for overflow incontinence.

      Pregnant women also have the potential to suffer from overflow incontinence. A growing baby can push on the bladder and this increased pressure can block the urine's passage to the urethra, triggering an overflow.

      How Common Is Overflow Urinary Incontinence?

      Any kind of urinary incontinence is more common in older adults. 

      Almost 50% of Americans age 65 and older have experienced it. 

      In general, urinary incontinence is more common in women, but men are more likely to suffer from overflow incontinence. Many of these cases may be attributed to an enlarged prostate, which, thankfully, is treatable.

      How Does Overflow Incontinence Compare to Other Types of Urinary Incontinence?

      Incontinence is uncomfortable and can be embarrassing. Each type has a different underlying cause and means of treatment. There are five major types including overflow incontinence. 

      Let’s look at the other four: 

      1)   Urge Incontinence 

      Urge incontinence is when you feel the sudden urge to urinate and experience an involuntary loss of urine. This may be caused by a minor infection or something more serious such as diabetes or a neurologic disorder.

      2)   Stress Incontinence

      Stress incontinence happens when pressure is put on the bladder that causes urine to leak. Actions that create stress on the bladder includes things like: 

      • Coughing
      • Sneezing
      • Exercising
      • Laughing 

      Pregnant women, or women who have given birth, are more likely to experience stress incontinence. In childbirth, the urinary system can experience pressure or damage. 

      3)   Mixed Incontinence

      Mixed incontinence is a blend of stress and urge incontinence. When the bladder is physically forced, this can create a sense of urgency and leakage. 

      Mixed incontinence is often caused by health concerns or a weak pelvic floor. Diagnosing the cause requires a trip to a urologist.

      4)   Functional incontinence

      Functional incontinence is caused by a physical or mental impairment that keeps you from making it to the bathroom in time.

      This can result in a small leak or a fully voided bladder. The elderly experience this type of incontinence more often.


      what is overflow incontinence

      5 Methods of Managing Overflow Incontinence

      #1: Absorbent Underwear

      Absorbent underwear is similar to normal underwear in that you can wear them under your everyday clothing. They are designed to absorb leaks and the moisture-wicking fabric protects your … 

      • Skin
      • Clothes, and
      • Dignity

      ... from both incontinence and period leaks. 

      ONDRwear is doctor-designed, uber-absorbent, leak-proof underwear with a plant-based liner for incontinence and periods.

      #2: At-Home Behavioral Training

      If you take extra time to empty your bladder through targeted practice, overflow incontinence can often be resolved. 

      To do at-home behavioral training, here are some steps to take to help teach your bladder more control:

      • Wait a certain amount of time to urinate after you feel the urge to go. Start with 10 minutes, then work your way up to urinating every two to four hours. Be patient with yourself, and keep practicing.
      • Try double voiding. After you urinate, wait a few minutes then try to go again. This helps train your bladder to fully empty.
      • Try some pelvic floor exercises such as Kegels. This helps tighten the muscles your body uses to stop urinating.
      • Try maintaining a bathroom break schedule. Instead of waiting to feel the urge to go, try to urinate every two to four hours.

      #3: Medication

      There are two major types of medications often used to treat overflow incontinence:

      • 5a reductase inhibitors: These medications are used to treat an enlarged prostate gland, and may be a possible treatment for men.
      • Alpha-blockers: These medications relax muscle fibers of the prostate and bladder neck muscles. This helps the bladder empty more completely. This group of medications also help relax the portion of the urinary tract where the bladder flows into the urethra. This can allow the urine to flow more freely in both women and men. 

      Here are some common alpha-blockers prescribed:

      • Terazosin 
      • Alfuzosin (Uroxatral)
      • Silodosin (Rapaflo)
      • Tamsulosin (Flomax)
      • Doxazosin (Cardura)

      #4: Catheterization

      A catheter is a way to manually drain your bladder. A soft tube is inserted into your urethra several times a day to void your bladder. 

      It may sound gruesome, but sometimes in more serious cases, it can mean the difference between having an accident in public and having more control over when you empty your bladder.

      There are two types of inserts that are used for incontinence-related issues.

      A pessary: 

      This is a stiff vaginal ring you insert, then wear all day. This is especially useful for those with a prolapsed uterus or bladder. The ring helps hold your bladder in place to prevent leakage.

      A urethral insert:

      This is a disposable device that you insert into the urethra. Before doing physical activity that may cause incontinence, you insert it. Then remove it before urinating. It acts like a tampon for incontinence.

      #5: Surgery

      Surgery is a possible option if the other treatments aren’t working. Overflow incontinence surgeries may include:

      Worried You’ll Pee a Little? ONDRwear Is the Comfortable, Affordable Solution for Overflow Incontinence – Continue Doing the Things You Love

      Eco-friendly and sustainable, ONDRwear is unlike single-use products such as pads or Depends.

      The liner in ONDR underwear is made from beach wood fiber and algae. These materials are more naturally odor-free and not irritating to the skin like synthetic fibers used in other brands. 

      The body of the underwear is made with nylon, but the liner that touches the most sensitive areas is the model (beach wood) and algae fiber.

      Dr. Jessica Lubahn, the founder of ONDR, is a urologist and understands the limitations and side effects of invasive treatments for incontinence. She understands the frustration and embarrassment patients may feel about incontinence and how leak-proof underwear can boost your confidence.



       The content in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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