As your bladder fills up, your brain sends a signal to tighten the muscles of the pelvic floor and urethra. These muscle contractions close the urethra to help hold urine in the bladder. Once your bladder feels full, it sends a signal back to the brain. If you are ready to go to the bathroom, the brain responds with a signal that releases the muscles and allows urine to flow from the bladder, through the urethra and out of the body.
Your brain, bladder and muscles in the urinary system are supposed to work together to control the flow of urine. When you have urge incontinence or an overactive bladder, some part of this circuit breaks down.
An overactive bladder is when strong urges prompt you to go the bathroom more often than normal. Urge incontinence is when the urges associated with an overactive bladder prevent you from holding back urine before you get to the bathroom.
If you find that you are going to the bathroom frequently, your bladder muscles might be contracting before your brain is ready to allow it. Or your brain might be sending signals at the right time, but your muscles might be too weak or uncoordinated to function properly. If you just have a strong urge to urinate, there might be a problem with the nerves that your brain uses to transmit the signals.
A small percentage of people with neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease or a history of strokes, are prone to these conditions. Certain medications also can cause overactive bladder.
These conditions get progressively worse as you age. About 10 percent of women in their 20s experience them. As many as 40 percent of women in their 80s have overactive bladder.