Functional Incontinence: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Management – Boom Home Medical
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Understanding and Managing Functional Incontinence

by Valerie Ulene 03 Apr 2024

Incontinence affects an enormous number of people and has a huge impact on their lives but, for many, it’s still a taboo topic. It’s our mission at Boom Home Medical to change that, so people are able to get the advice, products and support they need to manage their symptoms. 

What is Functional Incontinence?

There are several different types of incontinence. In this article, we’ll discuss one of them—functional incontinence.

Functional incontinence occurs when a person recognizes the need to urinate but cannot make it to the bathroom in time due to physical, mental, or environmental barriers. 

Read on if you'd like to learn more about what causes functional incontinence, how it’s diagnosed, and available treatment options.

6 Causes of Functional Urinary Incontinence

To start, it’s important to recognize that functional incontinence is fundamentally different from other types of incontinence in that the underlying problem is not the urinary tract itself.  In fact, in most individuals with functional incontinence, the bladder fills and empties normally. Rather, the problem that individuals with functional incontinence face is that they’re simply unable to get to the toilet quickly enough. 

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to functional urinary incontinence. They include:

1. Mobility Limitations

Individuals with limited mobility may not be able to get to the bathroom fast enough to avoid an accident. (1) A wide range of chronic medical conditions can cause difficulty walking, including conditions affecting the nervous system (e.g. multiple sclerosis), the bones and joints (e.g. osteoarthritis), the lungs (e.g. emphysema), and the heart (e.g. heart failure). Mobility can also be affected by more acute medical issues, like injuries (e.g. broken bones, sprains and strains) or a recent surgery.

2. Use of a Wheelchair

Not only does it take people who use a wheelchair longer to get to the toilet, once they get there, they’re faced with the additional challenge of transferring onto the toilet—something they may require help and time to do. 

3. Physical Disabilities

Certain types of physical disabilities can make toileting challenging.  Individuals with arthritis involving their fingers, for example, may get to the bathroom in time but then struggle to remove their clothing. The same holds true for people who have suffered a stroke or experienced a spinal cord injury and have weakness in their arms. Temporary disabilities like a broken arm or shoulder injury can present similar challenges. 

4. Chronic Pain

Pain interferes with many things, including toileting. Individuals in chronic pain often move more slowly than others, so getting to the bathroom in time to urinate may be problematic for them. Also, once in the bathroom, things that most people take for granted, like bending over and lifting the toilet lid can present a huge hurdle.

5. Dementia or Other Cognitive Impairments

Individuals who suffer from dementia might not be aware they need to use the toilet or may have trouble communicating that they require help getting to the bathroom.

6. Environmental Factors

Environmental obstacles can play a big role in functional incontinence. Some examples include:

  • The bathroom is too far away.
  • There are physical obstacles like furniture to navigate on the way to the bathroom. This can make getting to the toilet in time to urinate particularly hard for individuals using walkers or wheelchairs.
  • There is limited access to bathrooms. This is obviously a bigger issue when people are outside of their homes, on a car trip for example.
  • There are lines for the bathrooms. Airplane toilets or bathrooms at concerts or sporting events are good examples of this.

Symptoms of Functional Incontinence

The signs of functional incontinence are generally not subtle. They include:

  • Emptying your bladder before you are ready to
  • Failing to get to a bathroom in time when you need to pee
  • Frequently leaking or dribbling urine

Diagnosing Functional Incontinence

If you notice symptoms of functional incontinence, it’s worth being assessed by a healthcare professional. Your physician will complete a full assessment including a medical history and physical exam and, based on their findings, may recommend further evaluation with medical testing. Although functional incontinence is not typically caused by a problem with the urinary tract itself, those types of issues need to be ruled out before a final diagnosis is made.

It’s important to be aware that you may be diagnosed with more than one type of incontinence. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease, for example, often experience urge incontinence (a consequence of nerve damage caused by the disease) and functional incontinence due to an unsteady gait (another consequence of the disease). (2)

Treatment Options

Fortunately, there are ways to improve symptoms of functional incontinence. Here are some changes that are simple to implement that many people find helpful:

  • Drink small amounts of fluid throughout the day. This will help prevent overfilling of the bladder which can trigger the sudden need to urinate.
  • Try bladder training. Bladder training is an important technique that can help control urinary frequency and urgency (a strong and sudden urge to urinate). It teaches the bladder to hold more urine for longer periods of time by establishing regular, fixed times throughout the day to use the bathroom. 
  • Create a clear path to the bathroom. Remove or reposition any obstacles that might slow you down on your way to the bathroom. The most important routes to clear are the ones you use most frequently, like the path from your bed to your bathroom.
  • Work on improving your fitness level and mobility. Working to improve your fitness level benefits your health in a multitude of ways – getting to the bathroom and on and off the toilet faster being just one of them.
  • If you smoke, attempt to quit. Smokers are more likely to suffer from urinary urgency than non-smokers. (3) Urinary urgency can make getting to the toilet in time to prevent an accident more difficult.

Some people may also benefit from physical therapy or medications to manage their symptoms of functional incontinence.

Boom Home Medical's Empowering Solutions for Managing Functional Incontinence

At Boom Home Medical, we believe that everyone experiencing incontinence should have solutions available to them that alleviate their symptoms and improve their quality of life. That’s why we created the Loona bedside urinal and Boom absorbent underwear.

The Loona Bedside Urinal

Convenient and discreet, the Loona female urinal is a must-have for women with functional incontinence.  This portable urinal has comfortable contours to fit your body shape and a handle that’s easy to hold. The snap-close lid prevents spills and locks in odor. The Loona also features a flow diverter to muffle the sound of your flow for a quiet go. 

But Loona is about more than just relief, it’s about being proud to have our product in a place where anyone can see it.

Loona is the most elegant solution to relief, anytime and anywhere.

Its sculptural, vase-like silhouette allows it to be unabashedly left out in the open, where it can be accessed at a moment’s notice. 

Perfect for nighttime urges, the Loona can be used by the side of your bed and then emptied and washed with soap and water in the morning. It’s also a great option for individuals who have difficulty getting around after surgery or as the result of an injury.  

Boom Absorbent Underwear for Women

Finally – incontinence underwear that’s both functional and stylish. Boom’s absorbent underwear features triple-layer protection. It’s one of the best washable incontinence underwear for women on the market. 

Available in a classic look or with an elegant lace trim, this reusable underwear can be washed and worn again, eliminating the need for single-use pads–a win for both your budget and the environment.

Key Takeaways

If you’re struggling with functional incontinence, help is available. Continence specialists can offer advice, support, and treatment – all you have to do is ask. 

Fortunately, people are starting to talk more openly about incontinence and innovative incontinence products are becoming increasingly available. The Loona bedside urinal and Boom absorbent underwear provide stylish, discreet, and convenient solutions for an incredibly common problem.

FAQs about Functional Incontinence

Which medical conditions can contribute to functional incontinence?

Any condition that affects your physical mobility can contribute to functional incontinence. Functional incontinence can also be caused by medical conditions that impact you cognitively, like Alzheimer’s disease.

Can I wear Boom Home Medical's absorbent underwear every day?

Many women choose to wear Boom’s absorbent underwear every day because leaks are often unexpected. They fit like normal underwear and come in two styles, making them a perfect choice for daily wear.

Can I use the Loona portable female urinal without help?

The Loona is designed to be used independently, so you don’t need to ask for help. As long as you can sit on the edge of a bed or chair or stand without assistance, you should be able to use the Loona urinal device.


1. Elisabeth A. Erekson, MD MPH, Maria M. Ciarleglio, PhD, Paul D. Hanissian, MD, Kris Strohbehn, MD, Julie P.W. Bynum, MD MPH, and Terri R. Fried, MD, Functional disability and compromised mobility among older women with urinary incontinence

2. Noa M Buchman, Sue E Leurgans, Raj J Shah, Veronique VanderHorst, Robert S Wilson, Yaacov G Bachner, David Tanne, Julie A Schneider, David A Bennett, Aron S Buchman, Urinary Incontinence, Incident Parkinsonism, and Parkinson’s Disease Pathology in Older Adults

3. Richard C. Bump MD, Donna K. McClish PhD, Cigarette smoking and urinary incontinence in women

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