This leaflet is just a brief summary of incontinence. Another leaflet describes incontinence in more detail and there are other leaflets on urge incontinence, stress incontinence, and enuresis (bedwetting).
The kidneys make urine all the time. A trickle of urine is constantly passing to the bladder down the ureters (tubes from the kidneys to the bladder). You make different amounts of urine depending on how much you drink, eat and sweat.
The bladder is mainly made of muscle and stores the urine. It expands like a balloon as urine comes down the ureters.
The outlet for urine (the urethra) is normally kept closed. This is helped by the muscles beneath the bladder that sweep around the urethra (the pelvic floor muscles).
When a certain amount of urine is in the bladder you become aware that the bladder is getting full. When you go to the toilet to pass urine, the bladder muscle contracts (squeezes) and the urethra and pelvic floor muscles relax.
Complex nerve messages are sent between the brain and the bladder and pelvic floor muscles. These make you aware of how full your bladder is and tell the right muscles to contract (squeeze) or relax at the right time.
If you have urinary incontinence it means that you pass or leak urine when you do not want to. It is classified into different types, depending on the cause.
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