Continence vs incontinence - the basics

With so much terminology out there, things can quickly become confusing and overwhelming. Especially when it comes to continence and incontinence. So often, these two terms are used in the same context and let’s be fair, they also sound fairly similar to the untrained ear. But don’t worry, we’ve got everything you need to know about them right here for you.

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What is continence?

Continence generally means that you are capable of controlling your bladder. This isn’t something we’re born with but something all of us learn during early childhood. And because of that fact, it can also be forgotten again in later life. This something that often happens to people with dementia or Alzheimer’s, for example.


What is incontinence?

Incontinence means the exact opposite of continence – that you are not able to hold urine back if you want to. Signs of incontinence include:

  • Sensation that bladder isn’t completely empty
  • Leaking when coughing, sneezing, or exercising
  • Getting up twice or more at night to pee or wetting the bed
  • Difficulties emptying bladder – straining, poor flow or feeling that it’s not emptied
  • Going to the loo considerably more often than 4-6 times; this is called frequency
  • Suddenly and urgently needing to pee
  • Recurrent UTIs


Most common types of incontinence

Stress IncontinenceStress incontinence is usually a result of weak or damaged pelvic floor and sphincter muscles. When those aren’t working at full capacity anymore, a little pressure on the bladder can cause involuntary leakage. Pressure could be caused through coughing, sneezing, exercising, laughing, or even heavy lifting.

Urge IncontinenceUrge incontinence means that you’re not able to hold on to urine when you experience the urge to pee. There might just be a minor leak while you’re rushing to the toilet or you might not be able to make it to the toilet at all. This type of incontinence is often seen in people with diabetes, MS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, or after experiencing a stroke.

Overflow Incontinence - This type of incontinence usually happens when the bladder is constantly full and can’t be emptied completely. Often, this will be caused by an obstruction or blockage of the lower urinary tract that makes it impossible for the urine to exit the body. This means, that you are likely to get a little bit of urine when you’re trying to pee or involuntarily, but you won’t experience a full pee. A spinal cord injury or an enlarged prostate blocking the urethra might be the cause for your overflow incontinence.

Functional IncontinenceWhen you hear the term functional incontinence, that means that you might not make it to the toilet in time because of a condition that prevents you from getting around quickly. This can be due to conditions like Arthritis, an injury, or simply old age.

Nocturnal EnuresisNocturnal enuresis, or bedwetting, means that you aren’t able to control your bladder while you’re asleep and wet the bed. Rather than waking up when you feel the urge to pee, your body will simply release the urine while you’re sleeping. Bedwetting is surprisingly common it’s just not known because only very few people talk about it.