What Does Incontinence Mean?

Have you left your doctor’s appointment and felt overwhelmed by all the medical terminology?

When it comes to incontinence there is a wide range of key terms and phrases that you may come across. It’s natural to want to shy away from asking your doctor what a certain word around incontinence means, so we’ve listed key terms you may need to know to help you get clear on incontinence definitions.

Why not go ahead and bookmark this page so you can refer back to it whenever you need to?

The definition of incontinence

The National Health Service (NHS) defines urinary incontinence as the unintentional passing of urine.

Urinary incontinence is caused due to a lifestyle, health, or physical problem. There are five main types of incontinence, these are:

  • Stress incontinence
  • Urge incontinence
  • Mixed incontinence
  • Overflow incontinence
  • Total incontinence

To find out more about specific definitions of incontinence and related terminology, check out our glossary below.

The incontinence glossary

Athletic incontinence

Athletic incontinence happens to athletes during high-impact exercise. The pelvic floor muscles become damaged and the support they provide reduces due to additional abdominal pressure. Athletic incontinence can also be due to the muscles being too tight and not able to contract quickly enough whilst exercising (1).


The bladder is an organ that sits in the bottom part of the abdomen. The bladder receives waste from the blood and produces urine. The bladder is like a bag that stores urine inside the body until it’s released through the urethra (2).

Bladder training

Bladder training is used to treat the urinary symptoms linked with an overactive bladder (OAB). The training is used to teach your bladder to hold onto larger amounts of urine and helps to reduce the number of trips to the toilet. Bladder training can also be used for those who experience urine leaks or a sudden need to go to the toilet (3).


Climacturia (orgasm-associated incontinence) happens when a man leaks urine as he ejaculates. It’s common for men to experience this when having had their prostate gland removed, as sometimes nerves and tissues are damaged (4).

Coital incontinence

Coital incontinence occurs in women either during penetration or during an orgasm due to an involuntary bladder spasm. Often women experience bladder leaks during sexual intercourse when they have been diagnosed with either stress incontinence or an overactive bladder (5),(6).

Detrusor muscle

The detrusor muscle can be found in the walls of the bladder and is made of smooth muscle fibres. The detrusor contracts during urination, forcing the urine out of the bladder and moving it into the urethra. Once urination has taken place, the detrusor muscle relaxes to hold more urine (7).

Double incontinence

Double incontinence happens when someone experiences both faecal and urinary incontinence (8).

Faecal incontinence

Faecal incontinence, also known as bowel incontinence, is a sign of an underlying health condition. It’s when someone is unable to control their bowel movements. It can range from someone passing a small amount of faeces to a complete loss of bowel control (9).

Functional incontinence

Functional incontinence happens when someone is unable to get to the toilet on time or undress due to a physical or mental illness or disability. For example, they may:

  • Not know they need the toilet
  • Not know what a toilet looks like due to memory loss
  • Have difficulty walking
  • Have arthritis or dementia. This can cause them to struggle to get to the toilet on time (10), (11).

Giggle incontinence

Giggle incontinence can occur in boys and girls, however, it usually happens to girls aged between 7-14. It can cause children to have bladder leaks while laughing. Some children will have minor leakage, for other children the bladder will empty itself. The cause of giggle incontinence is unknown. However, it often improves with age (12).


Incontinence affects women and men and is the involuntary loss of bladder or bowel control. For some, this means the occasional leak, for others, they have lost complete control of their bladder or bowel. There are various types of causes of incontinence and these can include lifestyle and physical factors, medications, and genetics (13).

Incontinence pads

Incontinence pads can be used by men and women. They are worn inside the pants to absorb urine. The pads use a hydrophobic layer that locks in the urine, so the skin stays dry and doesn’t become irritated. Incontinence pads come in a range of absorbances to support those with mild to moderate incontinence (14).

Incontinence pants

Incontinence pants can be worn by women and men. They replace underwear and are worn by those with mild to moderate urinary incontinence. It’s possible to buy either single-use or reusable incontinence pants (14), (15).


Kegel means the repetitive contractions of the pelvic muscles in order to strengthen them. This will then help to control the flow of urine (16).

Kegel balls

Kegel balls are small plastic balls with metal bearings inside. These are placed in the vagina to help someone perform pelvic floor exercises (17).

Kegel exercises

Men and women can do Kegel exercises to strengthen their pelvic muscles, control or stop urinary and rectal incontinence, or to improve sexual sensation (18).

To do Kegel exercises (also known as pelvic floor muscle training), tighten the pelvic floor muscles, hold for three seconds, and then release. Repeat the exercises three times a day and aim for three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions a day. Kegel exercises can also be done using Kegel balls or weighted vaginal cones (36).

Kegel weights

Kegel weights, sometimes known as vaginal cones, are placed inside the vagina while practising Kegel exercises. They help to build the pelvic floor muscles and therefore improve urinary incontinence. The cones come in various weights and as someone’s pelvic floor muscles improve, the weight can be increased (19).

Mixed incontinence

Mixed incontinence is when someone experiences two types of urinary incontinence. Usually, people have a mixture of stress and urge incontinence (20).

Nocturnal enuresis

Nocturnal enuresis is when someone urinates whilst they’re sleeping. This type of incontinence relates to those who are of an age where they’re expected to be able to control their bladder (21).

Overactive bladder syndrome

Overactive bladder syndrome is when the bladder contracts suddenly and the person has no control. Often only a small amount of urine leaks out as the bladder isn’t full at the time of the contraction (22).

Overflow incontinence

Someone experiencing overflow incontinence will have regular dribbling or leaks of urine because the bladder isn’t able to empty completely (20).

Pelvic floor

The pelvic floor is a 'sling' of muscles that runs between the pubic bone in the front and the tailbone at the back. They help both men and women to control their bladder and bowel.

A woman’s pelvic floor muscles support her uterus, bladder, and bowel. The urethra, the vagina, and the anus all pass through the pelvic floor muscles.

A man’s pelvic floor muscles support his bladder and bowel. The urethra and the anus all pass through the pelvic floor muscles (24).

Pelvic floor exercises

Pelvic floor exercises can be done by men and women. The exercises strengthen the muscles around the bladder, bottom, and vagina, or penis, and can help with urinary incontinence. To complete pelvic floor exercises, squeeze the pelvic muscles 10-15 times. The number of repetitions may be increased each week and should be continued as progress is being made (23).

Pelvic floor surgery

Pelvic floor surgery is a surgical treatment that is used to prevent urinary incontinence after other treatments have been unsuccessful. There are various types of pelvic floor surgery depending on the type of urinary incontinence diagnosis (25).

Pelvic floor therapy

Pelvic floor therapy helps someone to stretch their pelvic floor, pelvis, and lower back muscles so that the coordination of the muscles can be improved to help reduce or stop urinary incontinence (26).


Polyuria, sometimes known as excessive urination volume, is when someone urinates an excessive amount, approximately more than 2.5 litres per day (27).

Post-void dribbling

Post-void dribbling happens when a small amount of urine leaks immediately or shortly after urinating (28).


The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that can be found between the bladder and the penis. The prostate gland produces a liquid that is mixed with sperm to make semen (29).


Prostatectomy is surgery to remove part or all of the prostate gland and is often carried out to treat prostate cancer (30).

Stress incontinence

Stress incontinence is diagnosed when urine leaks when pressure is placed upon the bladder. For example, when someone coughs, laughs, sneezes, exercises, or lifts a heavy object (20).

Structural incontinence

Structural incontinence is a rare condition where, for many reasons, part of the renal system is damaged (31).

Total incontinence

Total incontinence is when the bladder cannot hold any urine. Someone may consistently pass urine or may occasionally pass urine and experience bladder leaks (32).

Transient incontinence

Transient incontinence can be caused by a short-term illness or a temporary problem that is treatable or lasts for a short period of time (33).


The urethra is a tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body. In men, the urethra also carries semen (34).

Urge incontinence

Urge incontinence happens when someone experiences an overwhelming and immediate need to urinate. Often someone with urge incontinence will experience a bladder leak before they reach the toilet (11).

Urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence is when someone involuntarily passes urine as they are unable to control their bladder (20).


Urology is a department within the healthcare system that manages diseases of the male and female urinary tract, such as the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra (35).

The Bottom Line

There you have it. Our incontinence definition guide. Think you may find this info helpful again? Bookmark this glossary so you can grab it when needed.

If you’d like to know more about urinary incontinence and how INNOVO can help stop your bladder leaks, discover how INNOVO works and our clinical studies today.


  1. Incontinence UK. The Surprising Prevalence of Athletic Incontinence. May 2018
  2. Medicine Net. Bladder. March 2021
  3. The British Association of Urological Surgeons. Bladder Training. June 2020
  4. International Society for Sexual Medicine. What is Climacturia and How Can It Be Managed.
  5. Healthline. Peeing During Sex is Stressful. May 2018
  6. Chu, C. Arya, L. & Andy, U. Impact of urinary incontinence on female sexual health in women during midlife. 2015
  7. Sam, P. Nassereddin, A. & LaGrange, C. Anatomy, Abdomen and Pelvis, Bladder Detrusor Muscle. August 2020
  8. Incontinence UK. What is Double Incontinence? February 2018
  9. Royal College of Nursing. Types of Incontinence.
  10. Continence Foundation of Australia. Functional Incontinence. August 2020
  11. Harvard Health Publishing. Types of Urinary Incontinence.
  12. Incontinence UK. What Is Giggle Incontinence? April 2019
  13. Cambridge Dictionary. Incontinence.
  14. NHS. Incontinence Products. November 2019
  15. Incontinence UK. Briefs & Pants. Accessed June 2021.
  16. Merriam Webster. Kegel Exercises.
  17. Medical News Today. What to know about Ben Wa balls. October 2019
  18. Healthline. Kegel Exercises: Benefits, Goals, and Cautions. September 2018
  19. VeryWell Health. How To Use Vaginal Weights For Incontinence. October 2019
  20. Mayo Clinic. Urinary Incontinence. Symptoms and Causes. March 2021
  21. Bladder and Bowel Community. Nocturnal Enuresis.
  22. Patient Info. What Is Overactive Bladder Syndrome? April 2021
  23. NHS. What Are Pelvic Floor Exercises? April 2020
  24. Queensland Health. How to Find and Exercise Your Pelvic Floor Muscles. November 2019
  25. NHS. Surgery and Procedures. November 2019
  26. Cleveland Clinic. Pelvic Floor Dysfunction: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment. May 2020
  27. Healthline. Excessive Urination Volume. September 2018
  28. Bergenyrological. Post Void Dribbling. January 2007
  29. Webmd. Prostate Gland. June 2020
  30. Mayo Clinic. Prostatectomy. September 2020
  31. My FlexiCare. Forms of Incontinence.
  32. NHS. Causes. Urinary Incontinence. November 2019
  33. Incontinence UK. What Causes Transient Incontinence. September 2018
  34. Cambridge Dictionary. Urethra.
  35. Urology Health. What is Urology?
  36. Mayo Clinic. Kegel Exercises: A how to guide for women. September 2020