Although rarely diagnosed in women, overflow incontinence occurs often during or after a natural life event like pregnancy, vaginal delivery of a baby, or menopause.

Overflow incontinence can come as a bit of a shock as you may not be aware that you need to go to the loo and your bladder will leak without warning. Obviously this can be highly embarrassing if it happens in public!

What’s the story with overflow incontinence?

The main difference is overflow incontinence and other types of light bladder leaking is that with overflow incontinence the regular stream of wee is interrupted and the bladder can’t fully empty.

Overflow incontinence tends to happen when the bladder, like an over-filled hot water bottle, has pressure put on it and the urine is forced out. This can be caused by nervous system problems, such as the brain not knowing that the bladder is full, or where pee is reduced to a trickle because there’s a blockage somewhere in the plumbing.

And because wee can’t stream out with its usual enthusiasm, the bladder fills to the point of overflow.

Overflow incontinence can be more than embarrassing

Wetting one’s pants will make any woman blush. For many, it’s more than embarrassing: it can play havoc with your self-esteem and sexual confidence. Some women even avoid parties and other social gatherings for fear of being seen with a wet patch on their clothing.

The good news is that there are very effective treatments, some of which you can do by yourself, including pelvic floor exercises.

Some of the telltale signs of overflow incontinence

There’s a good chance you have overflow incontinence if you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms:

  • You’re dribbling wee
  • You feel like you can never empty your bladder completely no matter how long you sit on the toilet
  • Your urine stream is very weak when you do go to the toilet (for example the stream is a dribble or only a few small drops)
  • It’s difficult to even start weeing
  • You’re going to the bathroom much more often but are passing less urine
  • You’ve wet the bed at night
  • You have a bladder infection. (Unfortunately, one of the worse side effects of overflow incontinence is that urine may stay in the bladder for long periods of time and cause bladder infections)

    If these symptoms aren’t familiar, check out the other types of incontinence, including urge incontinence and stress incontinence.

    Help is at hand

    In many cases overflow incontinence can be cured completely. Your doctor will be able to help you out. Doing pelvic floor exercises is a good place to start. And until you get back to normal, there are excellent Poise products to help discreetly manage the problem so you can get out and about with confidence.

    What causes overflow incontinence?

    Overflow incontinence happens when your bladder is stretched beyond its normal capability. This generally results in leakage, and it can happen during the day or at night.

    Two things can cause over-stretching. The first is some kind of blockage in the bladder or the urethra or another area of the urinary system. The second underlying reason might be a weak bladder contraction, which may be caused by nerve damage or atrophy (a decrease in size) of the muscles in and around your bladder.

    When a weak bladder contraction happens, the bladder tends to enlarge. This swelling distends the bladder’s opening, allowing the contents to leak out.

    Whatever the reason for it, overflow incontinence makes the bladder fill to over capacity and wee then starts to come out.

    Weak bladder muscles are a common cause of overflow incontinence in women because normal female life events such as pregnancy and menopause can cause these muscles to weaken and not do their job properly. Ovarian tumours or kidney stones can also be the culprit as they can cause blockages.

    Nerve damage in and around the bladder may be caused by a variety of ailments including Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis or Diabetes. Some medications – especially medications for treating mental disorders like depression and psychosis – may also cause the bladder to overfill.

    Overflow incontinence treatments

    The first step to sorting out overflow incontinence is getting it diagnosed correctly. A common test often performed by a doctor is the bladder stress test. It may sound scary, but basically it involves simply working out whether you leak when you cough. No big deal. You may also be tested for bladder infections or kidney stones.

    Treatment usually depends on the diagnosis of the underlying cause. When the cause is not known or you simply want to get a bit more control, try the following recommended overflow incontinence treatments.

    • Bladder training: This means going to the bathroom at certain times during the day so that your bladder never overfills (usually every 2-3 hours).
    • Pelvic floor exercises: As mentioned above, bladder muscle weakness is a common cause of overflow incontinence. Daily pelvic floor exercises are great for strengthening your bladder and the surrounding muscles. You simply contract the muscles around your bladder for around 10 seconds and then relax and repeat.
    • Surgery: When the blockage is found to be a tumour or kidney stone that can’t be passed, surgery is often the best option.
    • Medication: A group of medications called alpha-blockers are fairly effective in reducing the symptoms of overflow incontinence. They work by relaxing the portion of the urinary tract where the bladder flows into the urethra and thereby allows urine to flow out more easily.
    • Intermittent self-catheterisation: this treatment is only for severe overflow incontinence and should only be used if explicitly recommended by an urologist.

    Don’t just sit there – do something about it today

    Many women are in denial about overflow incontinence, maybe because they hope the problem will magically go away. Book a visit with your GP who can make a diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan to get you back to doing the things you love.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from a qualified health care professional with any questions regarding your concerns.