Have you had to suddenly stop during exercise because of a sudden urge to wee? Leaked a little during a good laugh? Unexpected wetness when lifting something heavy? These are all examples of stress incontinence. What’s the story with stress incontinence?

The ‘stress’ in stress incontinence is to do with physical stress – when excess pressure on the bladder causes it to leak. Much like a balloon full of water, if you squash, prod or jump around with a weak bladder, the contents may come out.

Stress incontinence is as an uncontrollable leakage of urine during physical exertions such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, or exercise. Stress incontinence is the most common of the three common types of urinary incontinence. Unfortunately for women, it is much more common in females than males, thanks to life events like pregnancy and menopause that act as triggers.

Stress incontinence explained

Picture yourself holding a water-filled balloon. You use your hand to squeeze shut the small opening to stop the water trickling out. The balloon represents your bladder, your fingers represent your sphincter and pelvic floor muscles. If your fingers get tired, and you compress the balloon just a bit, the water will leak out.

Stress incontinence happens when there is pressure or stress on your bladder, causing it to leak. While these pressures are usually normal, they can result in light bladder leakage (LBL) if the pelvic structure is (or has been) weakened.

Triggers for stress incontinence include:

  • Bearing the weight of your baby during pregnancy
  • Lifting something heavy such as a child or shopping bags
  • Vigorously exercising or dancing
  • Jumping around and playing with children
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Giggling or laughing
  • Prostate surgery (men)

What causes stress incontinence?

The sphincter is a strong muscle you can usually control quite easily. It naturally holds everything in, even when the bladder is knocked around during physical activity. If you have stress incontinence, your sphincter isn’t so great at holding on anymore. It is easily overwhelmed by pressure from the bladder – allowing leaks to spill through.

The main cause of a weak sphincter and pelvic structure is pregnancy and giving birth. These events put a lot of pressure on your pelvis in general, most women will need a good amount to time to fully recover. Regular pelvic floor exercises during and after pregnancy help a lot, as well as taking adequate rest between children – 12 months is the recommended minimum.

Other causes of stress incontinence include:

  • Menopause and ageing
  • Surgery on reproductive organs such as a hysterectomy
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Obesity
  • Chronic coughing due to smoking, asthma or bronchitis, which puts pressure on your bladder
  • Certain medical conditions


See your doctor to find out the cause

There are several medical conditions that can cause stress incontinence, so see your doctor for a diagnosis if you’re unsure. Your doctor may refer you to a urologist as diagnosis usually requires tests, such as a bladder stress test. This is easy – you cough and the doctor checks to see if any wee leaks out. A urine test is usually done, too. For difficult cases, an ultrasound might be needed. The doctor may also ask you to keep a diary to record how often you use the toilet and how much urine there is.

Stress incontinence treatment

If you have stress incontinence, you may feel embarrassed about going out. Avoiding situations such as gym classes, parties and other social gatherings is a sad reality for many women experiencing light bladder leakage. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

With the Poise® pads and the right treatment, stress incontinence can be easily managed and cured. Try the treatment methods below, staying confident in the meantime with Poise® pads and liners. They’re just like regular pads except they’re more absorbent so you don’t have to worry.

Methods for stress incontinence treatment include:

  • Pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises) that strengthen and improve the performance of your pelvic floor muscles
  • Reducing your intake of coffee and alcohol
  • Quitting smoking to avoid developing a chronic cough
  • Losing weight to avoid excessive pressure on your bladder
  • Avoiding drinks and food that might aggravate your bladder like spicy curries and fizzy soft drinks
  • Medication to treat stress incontinence is usually more effective in cases that aren’t severe. These medications usually work by helping your bladder leak less urine.
  • Surgery – though this is normally the last resort if all other treatment options have been exhausted


If you have any questions, see your doctor to discuss your symptoms and treatment options.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from a qualified health care professional with any questions regarding your concerns.