As the bladder fills with urine (wee), it stretches to make room for more urine. When the bladder is about half full you feel the need to go to the toilet. A healthy bladder can hold up to 600mls of urine so most people can hold on after this initial feeling until it’s convenient to go to the toilet. 

People who experience urge incontinence get a strong feeling to urinate (wee) even when the bladder isn't full. This can occur in both men and women and involves a strong urge to urinate, often followed by loss of urine before reaching the toilet. If you experience urge incontinence you may also have the need pass urine more frequently. 

Even if you don’t accidentally lose urine, urgency and frequency can interfere with everyday activities because of the need to keep going to the toilet.


What causes urge incontinence?

Urge incontinence seems to become more common as we age. Symptoms may get worse at times of stress and may also be worsened by fluids like tea, coffee, fizzy drinks or alcohol.

Urge incontinence can be linked to stroke, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and other health conditions that interfere with the brain's ability to send messages to the bladder via the spinal cord. These conditions can affect a person's ability to hold and store urine.

Urge incontinence may also occur as a result of constipation, an enlarged prostate gland or simply the result of a long history of poor bladder habits such as going to the toilet before the bladder is full ("just in case"). In some cases, the cause of an overactive bladder is unknown.


Management options available

The aim in managing urge incontinence is to improve control of your bladder by:

  • reducing the strong urge sensation
  • gradually increasing the storage capacity or size of your bladder
  • increasing the period of time between visits to the toilet.

A bladder diary can help you to identify your pattern of passing urine and when accidental leakage is likely to occur. If you have not seen a doctor it may be useful to take this along to your appointment.

A bladder training program can help improve your bladder control. There are also specific prescription medicines that relax the bladder muscle and may improve the success of a bladder training program.

Having strong pelvic floor muscles will also help you to reduce urgency and help you hold the urine in the bladder until you get to the toilet.


In many cases incontinence can be prevented, better managed and even cured. Talk to your doctor or contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66.

The National Continence Helpline is staffed by Nurse Continence Specialists who offer free and confidential information, advice and support. They also provide a wide range of continence-related resources and referrals to local services.


Last Updated: Wed 26, Aug 2020
Last Reviewed: Mon 23, Mar 2020