Stress Incontinence

Ever wondered why pregnant women go to the bathroom so often? Have you laughed or coughed so hard you wet your pants?

Have you had to suddenly stop during exercise because of a sudden urge to wee? These are examples of stress incontinence.

The name is a little misleading because stress incontinence has nothing to do with mental stress, but physical stress in the form of pressure on the bladder, causing it to leak. Much like a balloon full of water – squash it, prod it or jump around with it and there’s a good chance the contents will spill out.

Different to overflow incontinence, stress incontinence is described 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 different types of urinary incontinence. It is much more common in women than men because female life events such as pregnancy and menopause can kick off stress incontinence.

Stress incontinence explained

Stress incontinence happens when there is external pressure or stress on your bladder, causing it to leak. These external pressures are normally in the form of a physical activity like:

  • Carrying around your unborn baby
  • 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

Light bladder leakage (LBL) usually occurs as a result of these physical activities because your pelvic floor muscles are no longer strong enough to support and control your bladder.


What causes stress incontinence?

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

The more medical definition of stress incontinence is that the sphincter muscle surrounding the urethra (the tube connecting your bladder to the outside world) and the pelvic muscles supporting the urethra are so weakened that pressure on the bladder causes these muscles to fail somewhat and this results in spillage.

One of the main causes of weak pelvic floor muscles is pregnancy and giving birth, as these events put lots of pressure on your pelvic floor muscles. Often these muscles take time to recover or need regular pelvic floor exercises to return to normal. Menopause and ageing can also cause these muscles to lose their effectiveness. Also, certain uterine muscles support the bladder and urethra so a hysterectomy can also cause stress incontinence.

Other causes of stress incontinence

  • Urinary tract infections 
  • Obesity 
  • Chronic coughing due to smoking, asthma or bronchitis, which puts pressure on your bladder

See your doctor to find out the cause

There are several medical conditions that can cause stress incontinence so you should see your doctor fordiagnosis and to discuss the best treatment plan. Your doctor may refer you to a urologist. 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 may be done. 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 and want to avoid certain situations such as gym classes, going to the movies, parties and other social or work gatherings.

The really good news is that you don’t have to put up with it! In nearly cases stress incontinence can be cured by one or another of the tried and proven treatments listed below. And until you get it sorted, you can easily manage it using discreet products in much the same way that you deal with your period each month.

  • Pelvic floor exercises or Kegel exercises to 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 is normally the last resort if all other treatment options have been exhausted

With treatment to fix the problem and discreet Poise products to keep you protected, stress incontinence can definitely be improved and managed.

Next Article

Overflow Incontinence

Recommended Articles

LBL, a common problem

For some, the embarrassment of a leaky bladder—whether it’s a few drops escaping when they sneeze, cough or laugh out loud, a small trickle when they hear the tinkling of running water, or a tell...

Read more

LBL Myths

Because many women incorrectly view LBL as a taboo subject, there are myths and old wives tales surrounding it. Here are some of the most popular myths debunked.

Read more


When it comes to treating light bladder leakage, there are several medical professionals who can help you out. They include your GP, specialists such as urologists, gynaecologists and urogynaecol...

Read more