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Urinary stress incontinence occurs when an activity, such as coughing or sneezing, causes a small amount of urine to leak from the urethra, which is the tube urine passes through. Stress incontinence (SI) is the most common type of incontinence suffered by women, especially older women. In addition, women who have given birth are more likely to have stress incontinence.

What Causes Stress Incontinence?

With stress incontinence, movements and activities such as coughing, sneezing, and lifting put greater abdominal pressure on the bladder. That causes the leakage of urine.

A number of things can contribute to stress incontinence. For instance, it can result from weak muscles in the pelvic floor or a weak sphincter muscle at the neck of the bladder. A problem with the way the sphincter muscle opens and closes can also result in stress incontinence. Chronic coughing, smoking, and obesity may also lead to SI. 

Stress incontinence, especially in women, is often caused by physical changes to the body. Things that can cause these changes include:

  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Menstruation
  • Menopause
  • Surgery
  • Problems with muscles in the bladder -- the organ that holds urine -- and the urethra
  • Weakened muscles around the bladder

In cases of stress incontinence, the muscles in the pelvis can weaken. This can cause the bladder to drop down into a position that prevents the urethra from closing completely. The result is a leakage of urine.

What Are the Symptoms of Stress Incontinence?

The main symptom of stress incontinence is a leakage of urine at times of physical movement or activity. Examples of the kinds of activities associated with urine leaking include laughing, coughing, lifting, or exercise. The leakage may be as little as a drop or two or may be a "squirt" or even a stream of urine.

How Is Stress Incontinence Treated?

Self-help techniques and aids can be used to treat mild stress incontinence. In addition, there are a number of treatments available for stress incontinence:

Kegel exercises: Kegel exercises, also called pelvic floor exercises, help strengthen the muscles that support the bladder, uterus, and bowels. By strengthening these muscles, you can reduce or prevent leakage problems.

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