Overflow Incontinence in Women

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Overflow Incontinence in Women

Topic Overview

Overflow incontinence is the involuntary release of urine—due to a weak bladder muscle or to blockage—when the bladder becomes overly full, even though the woman feels no urge to urinate.


Symptoms of overflow incontinence include:

  • 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.


Overflow incontinence can be caused by conditions that affect the nerves (such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis) and alter a person's ability to sense bladder fullness or that reduce the ability of the bladder to contract. It can also be caused by a blockage in the urinary tract, such as a bladder stone or a urinary tract tumour that constricts the urethra.


A thin, flexible tube (catheter) that allows urine to drain out is inserted into the bladder through the urethra. Different types of catheters exist for use by women with urinary incontinence.

  • Intermittent self-catheterization: A woman inserts a clean catheter when it is necessary to urinate, usually 3 or 4 times a day.
  • Indwelling Foley catheter: A catheter remains in place continuously. This type of catheter has a balloon on one end that is inflated with sterile water after that end is placed inside the bladder. The inflated balloon prevents the catheter from slipping out. Urinary tract infections are more likely to occur with long-term use of an indwelling catheter than with intermittent self-catheterization.

Medicines are rarely used to treat overflow incontinence.

Surgery may be needed to correct problems that result in overflow incontinence, such as obstructions or abnormal growths in the urinary tract.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Avery L. Seifert, MD - Urology
Last Revised October 28, 2010

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