What is Stress Incontinence?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 January 2020
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Stress incontinence is a condition that creates urine leakage when certain physical movements or activities affect the bladder. Urine could leak when people are running, lifting things, coughing, laughing or sneezing, for example. More women than men are affected by this condition.

There are two potential muscle groups indicated in stress incontinence. Muscles around the bladder may be weak or those muscles that support the urethra (called the urethral sphincter) that help “turn on” and “turn off” urination can fail to function as fully as they should. In some people both muscle groups are not as strong as they should be, which can exacerbate the condition.

One of the main causes of stress incontinence in women is childbirth. The muscles that support the bladder and the urethra can stretch and may have poor function after labor occurs. This is especially true when babies are large and delivered vaginally, and if delivery requires forceps. The condition may not be immediately noticed, though some women do begin experience it right after childbirth.


In men, a common cause is surgery to remove the prostate. Since the prostate supports urinary function, its removal can mean less control over urination. Other factors that increase risk include surgery in the pelvic region; a woman who has had a hysterectomy, but never had children, might still develop stress incontinence. People who are overweight, who smoke, who have recurrent bladder infections, or who use diuretics are also more likely to have trouble with this condition.

Treatment of stress incontinence can depend upon severity and cause. If primary cause is obesity or cigarette smoking, losing weight or quitting smoking may help resolve the condition. Those who have this condition due to urinary tract infections may find the condition improves with antibiotic treatment.

For women, one of the main treatments recommended is Kegel exercises. These are simple exercises that are easy to learn, and help to strengthen the muscles most indicated in incontinence. Regular Kegel exercises may make a huge difference and in some people completely resolves the condition. There are also some devices that can be placed in the vagina to stem urine flow.

Sometimes surgery may be necessary to help fully end stress incontinence, and there are several different methods for performing surgeries, and different approaches for men and women. Talking with a doctor about surgical methods is the best way to determine what types types of surgery are appropriated. Some people don’t get treatment and try to control leakage by minimizing fluid intake, using the bathroom frequently, and using incontinence pads.

The degree to which this condition interferes with life really varies. For some people, it can be a very difficult and embarrassing thing, and they may request surgery when other methods do not work. Other people consider it fairly normal and are not particularly bothered by using incontinence pads. No matter how people choose to manage this condition, it’s a good idea to discuss options with a doctor. It’s also important to rule out things like bladder infection that may be a primary cause and might be resolved easily.



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