Overflow Incontinence

Overflow Incontinence

Conditions Basics

What is overflow incontinence?

Overflow incontinence means that you have the urge to urinate but can release only a small amount. This can be due to a weak bladder muscle or to blockage. Since your bladder doesn't empty as it should, it gets too full. It then leaks urine later, even though you feel no urge to urinate.

What causes it?

Overflow incontinence can be caused by:

  • Conditions that affect the nerves. Examples include diabetes and multiple sclerosis. They may make it hard to tell when your bladder is full. Or they may make it harder for the bladder to contract.
  • A blockage in the urinary tract. This blockage could be a bladder stone or a urinary tract tumour that constricts the urethra. When blockage occurs in males, it is usually caused by an enlarged prostate gland (benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH), cancer of the prostate, or a narrowing of the urethra.
  • Weakness in the muscle that expels urine from the bladder (detrusor). The bladder can't empty normally.
  • Certain medicines.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of overflow incontinence include:

  • The sudden release of urine.
  • A feeling of fullness in the bladder even after urination.
  • Leakage of urine while sleeping.
  • A urine stream that stops and restarts during urination.
  • Difficulty urinating even while feeling the urge to urinate.

How is overflow incontinence treated?

In women

Women can be treated for overflow incontinence with:

  • A catheter. A catheter is a thin, flexible tube that allows urine to drain out. It is inserted into the bladder through the urethra. Different types of catheters include:
    • Straight catheters: A woman inserts a clean catheter when it is necessary to urinate, usually 3 or 4 times a day.
    • Foley catheters: The catheter remains in place continuously.
  • Surgery. Surgery may be needed to correct problems that cause overflow incontinence, such as obstructions or abnormal growths in the urinary tract.

Medicines are rarely used to treat overflow incontinence in women.

In men

Men can be treated for overflow incontinence with:

  • Surgery. Overflow incontinence caused by an enlarged prostate is often treated with surgery to remove the obstruction, including transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP), a common procedure used to treat BPH.
  • A catheter. Some men may need a catheter to allow the bladder to empty normally.
  • Medicine. Medicines can be used to make the prostate smaller. This relieves pressure on the urethra so the bladder can empty more normally. Medicines can also help the urine flow better.


Current as of: March 1, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Avery L. Seifert MD - Urology