What is Reflex Incontinence?

What is Reflex Incontinence?

Over 25 million adults in the United States experience some form of urinary incontinence! This could be any form of urinary incontinence, of which there are six types: stress, urge, mixed, overflow, functional, and reflex incontinence. In this post, we will be discussing reflex urinary incontinence, a type of urinary incontinence characterized by the loss of bladder control due to an involuntary and automatic reflex response.

Reflex incontinence occurs when the nerves controlling the bladder are damaged, disrupting the normal communication between the brain and the bladder. As a result, individuals with reflex incontinence experience a sudden urge or strong urge of urine leakage without warning, the sensation of a full bladder, or an overactive bladder.

The Nerves Around the Bladder

So what nerves are we talking about when we say, ‘nerves controlling the bladder”? The nerves involved are part of the autonomic nervous system, or the one is responsible for regulating involuntary bodily functions, like heart rate, digestion, and bladder control. The two primary nerves affected in reflex incontinence are:

Spinal Nerves

Particularly those located in the lower portion of the spinal cord. Medical history or conditions such as spinal cord injury, spinal stenosis, or tumors pressing on the spinal cord can disrupt the normal transmission of signals between the bladder and the brain, which could lead to an involuntary loss of urine.

Sacral Nerves

Specifically, the sacral nerve roots S2 to S4, which play a crucial role in controlling bladder function. Damage to these nerves, which can occur due to conditions like multiple sclerosis, diabetic neuropathy, or spinal surgery, can disrupt the normal reflexes involved in bladder control and contribute to reflex incontinence.

These nerves are usually damaged and lose their function during the onset of some underlying neurological conditions, leading to neurological impairment that can affect the nervous system and disrupt bladder control. We’ll be discussing those below.

What is Reflex Incontinence?

Neurological Conditions

Some common conditions associated with reflex incontinence include:

Spinal Cord Injury

Trauma or damage to the spinal cord, often resulting from accidents or falls, can lead to reflex incontinence. The severity and level of the spinal cord injury determine the extent of bladder dysfunction.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, including the spinal cord. Nerve damage caused by MS can interfere with the normal signals between the brain and the bladder, leading to reflex incontinence.

Spinal Tumors or Lesions

Tumors or lesions in or near the spinal cord can exert pressure on the nerves responsible for bladder control. This pressure can disrupt nerve signals and result in reflex incontinence.

Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetes can cause damage to the nerves throughout the body, including those involved in bladder control. Diabetic neuropathy can lead to various bladder problems, including reflex incontinence.

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects movement and coordination. As the disease progresses, it can also affect the nerves responsible for bladder control, leading to reflex incontinence.


A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, resulting in brain damage. Depending on the location of the stroke, it can affect the nerves involved in bladder control, leading to reflex incontinence.

Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is a birth defect where the spinal column doesn't close properly during fetal development. The degree of nerve damage associated with spina bifida can cause various bladder issues, including reflex incontinence.

These are just a few examples of conditions that can cause reflex incontinence, but as always you should consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment based on the underlying condition causing reflex incontinence.

Treatment Options

Disclaimer: If you recently noticed symptoms related to reflex incontinence, it’s highly advisable to consult a medical professional to determine causation through a physical examination and/or to discuss the proper treatment options prior to considering or attempting any of the treatment options suggested in this post.

In some cases, there are genetic conditions or situations where reflex urinary incontinence cannot be helped/cured. However, there are several strategies and interventions that can assist in managing their condition. Here are our tips:

Bladder Training

Bladder training techniques can be beneficial in improving bladder control. This involves scheduled voiding at regular intervals to gradually increase the time between bathroom visits. Over time, this can help train the bladder to hold urine for longer periods.


Certain medications, such as anticholinergic drugs, can help relax the bladder muscles and reduce involuntary contractions. These medications should be prescribed by a healthcare professional who knows your specific means.


For individuals with severe reflex incontinence, intermittent catheterization may be recommended. This involves inserting a thin tube (catheter) into the bladder at specific intervals to empty the urine. Catheterization can help prevent unwanted urine leakage and maintain bladder control.

Pelvic Floor Exercises

Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles through exercises, such as Kegels, can enhance bladder control and improve overall urinary incontinence. These exercises involve contracting and relaxing the muscles that support the bladder and pelvic organs.

Lifestyle Modifications

Adopting certain lifestyle changes can also be helpful. This may include maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding bladder irritants (such as caffeine and alcohol), avoiding extreme physical exertion, and practicing good fluid management to regulate urine production. Many people who deal with post-procedure incontinence incorporate a bladder diary into their daily routine as a means to track recovery.

Incontinence Products

Depending on the individual's needs, various incontinence products can be a huge help in managing reflex incontinence. These include absorbent pads or underwear, waterproof bedding, and protective mattress covers that can minimize the impact of urine leakage and stop it from being a huge inconvenience.

    WellBefore and You

    No matter what you decide to do in terms of preventative or maintenance measures for your reflex incontinence issues, WellBefore has got your back with all the incontinence products you may need. From adult diapers to pads, we offer a range of incontinence products in different sizes, absorbency levels, and types, so you will have more than enough options to find the one that best suits your needs.

    Not sure what product is right for you? Live text us or call our friendly customer service team, they can assist you and answer any question you may have!