Overflow Incontinence

Originally published on: April 6th, 2017. Last modified on April 27th, 2023

What Is Overflow Incontinence?

Overflow incontinence happens when the bladder doesn’t empty properly, and so it leaks out. You may not get the message to go to the toilet either. The bladder never empties properly and fills up more quickly due to the residual volume. You may find it difficult to start to pass water, and even when you have started, the flow is weak and slow. You might find that you dribble after you have finished passing water. Perhaps you dribble urine all the time, even without noticing.

What Causes Bladder Overflow Incontinence?

Overflow incontinence occurs when the muscles of the bladder are not able to squeeze properly to empty the bladder. This can often be caused by an obstruction or blockage in your bladder or in cases where there may have been nerve or muscle damage, perhaps caused by injury, surgery or disease such as Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Spina Bifida.

As you cannot empty your bladder completely, your bladder and its muscles can gradually become floppy. With larger amounts of urine being held in the bladder all the time, urine will leak out when you don’t want it to, and you may have a constant feeling of fullness.

In some cases, overflow can be due to an obstruction which is making it more difficult for you to empty your bladder. This obstruction can be caused by an enlarged prostate in men, a kidney stone blocking the urethra, constipation, or stricture of the urethra in either men or women, which makes it difficult for urine to flow out of the bladder outlet.

If you are concerned about your problem and it is starting to affect your day-to-day life, make an appointment to see your doctor, continence nurse or specialist physiotherapist. A continence nurse and specialist physiotherapist are healthcare professionals specialising in bladder and bowel problems.

Managing Overflow Incontinence

It would be a good idea to record your bladder activity for a few days before your appointment with your doctor or nurse. Your doctor will want to investigate the cause of your overflow incontinence, and once this has been established, treatment can start.

Whilst your problem is being investigated, your bladder will still not be emptying properly, and there is a risk that the residual urine which stays in the bladder will become infected. This could cause further complications and problems.

Using a Catheter for bladder incontinence

It is important that a way is found to empty the bladder, and quite often, this will mean using a catheter, classed as a type of management option.  A catheter is a thin, flexible plastic tube that is passed into the bladder through the urethra so that the urine will drain away.

Sometimes the catheter will be left in place so that the urine can be constantly drained into a collection bag which is worn on the leg. There are two kinds of indwelling catheter: urethral and suprapubic.  A urethral catheter is inserted into the bladder through the urethra, and a suprapubic catheter is inserted into the bladder through a hole in the abdomen, a few inches below the tummy button.

Intermittent Self-Catheterisation

Another management option is called intermittent self-catheterisation.  You can be taught to perform intermittent catheterisation on yourself at an interval specified by your healthcare professional. Most people find that catheterising intermittently is not as difficult or as uncomfortable as they had first imagined.

Normally, either form of catheterisation will only be needed until the cause of obstruction has been treated.

Further Information

We have a range of Information Sheets available explaining the differences between the different types of catheters. Please visit our downloads section for these and other Information Sheets that you may find helpful. You can also learn more about the possible overflow incontinence treatment options here.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you stop overflow incontinence?

An overfull bladder can be prevented from leaking by taking steps like bladder training and double voiding. You can also do daily pelvic floor exercises, we offer guides specific to the male and female anatomy. These exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles that support your bladder and urinary system.

What is an example of overflow incontinence?

You might be experiencing the signs of overflow incontinence if you leak tiny amounts of urine during the day or even wet the bed at night. A type of incontinence where the bladder cannot control urine flow is known as overflow incontinence due to muscle weakness or blockage.

Is overflow incontinence curable?

In some instances, overflow incontinence can be cured completely with the right treatment. Leaking urine is not an inevitable part of ageing and following a healthy diet and lifestyle will help. Your GP will be the best to advise on the best possible treatment for your condition, and will provide care without judgement.