stressed woman tapping eyeglasses to her forehead

Stress Incontinence vs Urge Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the unintentional passing of urine. Some people may feel the urge to urinate a lot, while others may be unable to control when they urinate. Incontinence affects women more than men, with 40% aged 65 and older experiencing some form of incontinence. 

There are also several types of incontinence, with stress incontinence and urge incontinence being two of the most common. If you've been struggling to control your bladder, keep reading to learn more about stress incontinence and urge incontinence to understand the causes, symptoms, and treatments. 

What Is Stress Incontinence?

Definition and Causes

Stress incontinence refers to unintentional leakage during physical activity or when pressure is put on the bladder. It can occur when you sneeze, laugh, cough, or engage in strenuous exercise. When the bladder and urethra are under pressure, the sphincter muscles open briefly, and urine can escape, ranging from a few small drops to a heavier flow. 

Weakened pelvic floor muscles or pregnancy and childbirth can also cause stress incontinence. Childbirth can cause tissue and nerve damage that weakens the pelvic floor, making it more difficult to hold urine. Other causes include:

  • Obesity
  • Aging
  • Pelvic surgery
  • Menopause and hormonal changes
  • Pelvic prolapse

Symptoms and Signs

The main symptom of stress incontinence is urine leakage during activities that put pressure on the bladder. Leakage amount can vary from person to person and happen during activities, such as:

  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Bending over
  • Laughing
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Exercising
  • Having sex

People with stress incontinence may also urinate more frequently or experience difficulty controlling their urine, whether their bladder is full or not. 

Risk Factors

  • Age:¬†As you age, physical changes, such as weakening pelvic floor muscles, can lead to stress incontinence.¬†
  • Weight:¬†Being overweight or obese can increase your chance of developing stress incontinence, due to excess weight putting pressure on the bladder.¬†
  • Previous pelvic surgery:¬†Undergoing a hysterectomy or prostate cancer surgery can weaken muscles that support the bladder and urethra, increasing the risk of stress incontinence.¬†
  • Childbirth delivery: Certain types of childbirth delivery, such as vaginal and forceps delivery, can increase the risk of stress incontinence.¬†


To diagnose stress incontinence, a doctor may conduct a physical exam to determine your pelvic support and muscle strength. The doctor may then order a urologic evaluation to test the urinary tract. A urologic evaluation can involve several types of tests, including urodynamic testing, which involves studying how the bladder and urinary system hold and release urine. There are numerous types of urodynamic testing, and your doctor will determine which one to use based on your specific condition. 

Treatment Options

There are several treatment options for stress incontinence, including medication, medical procedures, and lifestyle changes. Bladder training, pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels, and risk factor reductions are all lifestyle changes a doctor may recommend. You can also invest in incontinence products. Nexwear offers premium products, including pads and protective underwear, for bladder leak protection. 

Prevention Strategies

To help prevent stress incontinence, there are a few measures you can take, including:

  • Eat healthy
  • Stay hydrated
  • Quit smoking
  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Engage in pelvic floor exercises regularly, unless your doctor advises against them

What Is Urge Incontinence?

Definition and Causes

Urge incontinence, or overactive bladder, causes a sudden, intense urge to urinate, even when your bladder isn't full. It can result in bladder spasms that cause urine leakage. In a healthy bladder, the muscles contract when the bladder is full, producing the urge to urinate. When you have urge incontinence, these muscles contract before the bladder is full.

Urge incontinence can be caused by muscle spasms, bladder irritation, or certain medications, such as diuretics, which fill the bladder up quicker. Several neurological disorders may also cause urge incontinence, including:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Spinal cord or brain tumors
  • Multiple sclerosis

Symptoms and Signs

Many people with urge incontinence have overactive bladders that cause bladder muscles to contract more often than they should. The main symptom of urge incontinence is experiencing a sudden, uncontrollable urge to urinate followed by leakage. You may also feel the urge to urinate more frequently, even when your bladder isn't full. 

Risk Factors

  • Age:¬†Incontinence is most prevalent among older adults, although many middle-aged people also experience incontinence.¬†
  • Gender:¬†Women are more likely to experience incontinence due to physiological and hormonal differences.¬†
  • Family history:¬†Those with a family history of incontinence are more likely to experience the condition themselves.¬†
  • Childbirth:¬†Childbirth can cause nerve and muscle damage on the pelvic floor, increasing the risk of incontinence.¬†
  • Weight:¬†Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of experiencing urge incontinence symptoms because of additional pressure placed on the bladder.¬†
  • Smoking:¬†Since smoking is a bladder irritant, it can increase your risk of incontinence.¬†


When you visit a doctor for urge incontinence, they'll review your medical history to identify a cause. The doctor will likely conduct an internal pelvic exam to check on your pelvic organs and muscles. In some cases, this may be enough for a diagnosis. Otherwise, the doctor may order additional testing, such as a pelvic ultrasound, bladder stress test, or urodynamic testing. 

Treatment Options

There are several treatment options for urge incontinence. Behavioral modifications, such as bladder training and Kegels, can help minimize urge incontinence. A doctor may also prescribe medications or recommend nerve stimulation therapy, which sends a mild electric current through the lower back to stimulate muscles associated with urination. 

Some people may not be able to eliminate urge incontinence completely. In that case, incontinence products, such as Nexwear's pads or protective underwear, can absorb urine leakage, keeping you dry and comfortable. 

Prevention Strategies

There are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk of urge incontinence, including:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Engage in regular pelvic floor exercises
  • Avoid smoking

  • Drink less alcohol and caffeinated or carbonated beverages
  • Urinate regularly
  • Prevent constipation

What Is the Difference Between Stress Incontinence vs. Urge Incontinence?

Differences in Causes and Symptoms

Although stress incontinence and urge incontinence both result in urine leakage, their causes and symptoms differ. Stress incontinence is typically caused by certain physical activities, while urge incontinence is caused by spasms from an overactive bladder. With urge incontinence, you'll experience a sudden, intense urge to urinate. This doesn't usually occur with stress incontinence. Instead, you'll experience leakage during activities and may feel the need to urinate more frequently. 

Differences in Diagnosis and Treatment Options

There's some overlap in the type of testing, such as urodynamic and bladder stress tests, used to diagnose different types of incontinence. However, treatment options for stress incontinence vs. urge incontinence can differ. For stress incontinence, a doctor may recommend hormone therapy, physical therapy, or bladder sling procedures. Urge incontinence is better treated with Botox injections or nerve stimulation therapy. 

Similarities in Prevention Strategies

Despite their differences, stress incontinence and urge incontinence share similar prevention strategies, such as:

  • Kegels:¬†Your doctor may approve these exercises to help strengthen pelvic floor muscles to prevent urine leakage and increase bladder control.¬†
  • Dietary changes:¬†Maintaining a healthy diet and avoiding certain foods that cause bladder irritation can prevent incontinence.¬†
  • Proper hydration:¬†Dehydration can increase your risk of incontinence. Ensuring you drink enough water and refrain from consuming too much alcohol or caffeine can reduce this risk.¬†

Impact on Daily Life and Emotional Well-Being

Both types of incontinence can impact your daily life and mental health. For example, you may experience anxiety about doing things away from home, especially if you don't know whether bathroom facilities will be available. Some people may also feel embarrassed about using incontinence products, which can reduce self-esteem and disrupt their social life. However, incontinence is nothing to be ashamed of and can be managed discreetly.

The Bottom Line

Stress incontinence and urge incontinence are separate diagnoses with distinct causes, symptoms, and treatments. If you're dealing with incontinence symptoms, it's important to seek medical advice and determine the best method to treat your specific needs. There are many ways to manage incontinence, but as medical research advances, more effective treatments may be available in the future. 

In the meantime, Nexwear offers discreet, comfortable incontinence products available as a subscription, so you never have to worry about running out. Shop Nexwear today and live your life more confidently.