Thumbnail image of: Male Pelvis: Illustration

Overflow Incontinence

What is overflow incontinence?

Overflow incontinence is when you have trouble emptying your bladder completely. When you have overflow incontinence, your bladder gets full quickly and small amounts of urine keep leaking.

What is the cause?

Overflow incontinence may be caused by:

  • Enlargement of the prostate gland. The prostate gland is part of a man’s reproductive system. It is about the size of a walnut and located between the bladder and the penis. The prostate gland surrounds the upper part of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder out through the penis. As many men get older, their prostate gets bigger and squeezes the urethra. This makes it harder to urinate and empty the bladder. The bladder muscles get tired and weaken and urine dribbles constantly. This is the most common cause of overflow incontinence.
  • Tumors, stones or scarring that narrow the urethra
  • Bladder stones
  • Weak bladder muscle that can’t squeeze hard enough to empty
  • Problems that affect the nerves, such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, stroke, or spinal cord or brain injuries
  • Some medicines
  • Previous intestinal surgery or pelvic surgery, such as a slings or graft to lift the bladder in women

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Leaking urine
  • Trouble starting or stopping the flow of urine
  • Frequent and urgent need to urinate
  • A need to get up during the night to urinate
  • Frequent urinary infections
  • A feeling that your bladder never empties completely

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Men may also have a rectal exam because enlargement of the prostate gland can be felt through the rectum. Urine samples will be checked for infection or other problems, such as a kidney stone.

You may be referred to a specialist for further testing or treatment.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on what is causing the problem. If an enlarged prostate gland is causing it, you may be prescribed medicines to shrink the prostate or to relax the muscles. Sometimes surgery may be recommended.

Other treatments include:

  • Treatment of an infection
  • Removal of a blockage of the urethra
  • Incontinence pads and undergarments to help catch urine leaks and protect your clothing
  • A catheter inserted into the bladder so that it can be drained on a schedule

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • If you use incontinence pads for protection, change them regularly.
  • Keep the genital area clean and as dry as possible.
  • Find ways to stay within easy reach of a bathroom.
  • Don’t try to control urine leakage by cutting back on fluids. It won’t help and may be harmful. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day until about 3 hours before bedtime.
  • To help keep your bladder from getting too full, be sure to empty your bladder every 2 to 4 hours during the day and before you go to bed.
  • Avoid things that can irritate the bladder, such as alcohol, carbonated drinks, coffee or tea, chocolate, citrus fruits, tomatoes, or acidic fruit juices.
  • Avoid nonprescription medicines that relieve the symptoms of colds, flu, or allergies.

Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-12-05
Last reviewed: 2014-12-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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