- Stress incontinence is an inability to control your bladder when physical pressure is placed on it.
- Stress incontinence is often caused by vaginal birth, menopause, or prostate surgery.
- To treat stress incontinence, try pelvic floor therapy, losing weight, and avoiding caffeine.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Incontinence – the inability to control your bladder – is common, affecting 25 million Americans. It can be difficult and embarrassing to manage, but the good news is, incontinence is treatable.
There are multiple types of incontinence, including stress incontinence, which is the inability to control your bladder under circumstances like physical activity.
Stress incontinence is the most prevalent type of incontinence in women and affects about 15 million women in the US. However, it can affect anyone regardless of gender.
What is stress incontinence?
Unlike other types of incontinence, stress incontinence is specifically triggered when you place pressure on the abdomen and bladder, says Adam Ramin, MD, urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists, a private practice. That pressure typically comes from activities like:
- Lifting something heavy
- Bending over
Urge incontinence, on the other hand, occurs when a person feels the need to pee, and then their bladder contracts pushing urine out before they can get to the bathroom.
“Urge incontinence occurs as a result of overactive bladder,” Ramin says. “Overactive bladder means that the bladder goes into contraction or spasm, without a person’s brain being able to control the bladder, to keep it relaxed.”
What causes stress incontinence?
Contrary to what the name may suggest, stress incontinence has nothing to do with psychological stress. Rather, it’s due to physical stress on the muscles around the bladder, says Jennifer Linehan, MD, urologist and associate professor of urologic oncology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.
“Stress incontinence may accompany pelvic surgery or delivering a baby that physically or anatomically stresses, or stretches, the pelvic floor muscles or creates urethral incompetence,” Linehan says.
For women, common causes of stress incontinence include vaginal childbirth and menopause, as both can weaken your pelvic floor muscles making it harder to control your bladder.
For men, prostate surgery is a common culprit of stress incontinence since surgery weakens the muscles around the prostate, which are what keep urine from leaking out in the first place.
Other causes of stress incontinence, regardless of gender, include aging, being overweight, and frequently engaging in high-impact physical activity like running or jumping. Over time, this can strain and weaken those pelvic floor muscles that are vital for bladder control.
How do you treat stress incontinence?
Stress incontinence can be embarrassing and disruptive to your daily life. But there are ways to treat the condition and manage symptoms. Options include:
- Lifestyle changes. This can include wearing absorbent pads, maintaining a healthy weight, or avoiding caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, which may irritate your bladder and cause you to need to urinate more often.
- Pelvic floor therapy, which focuses on the muscles that help support and control the bladder, Linehan says.
A 2018 review found that women who received pelvic floor physical therapy were eight times more likely to report improvement with stress incontinence than women who did not receive treatment.
Pelvic floor therapy is typically provided by certified physical therapists. Your primary care provider or OB-GYN may be able to refer you.
- Devices like a vaginal pessary or urethral insert offer a barrier to prevent leakage and are inserted by a medical professional.
- Surgery. There are a few surgical procedures that treat stress incontinence. One requires placing an artificial urinary sphincter around the urethra to help control the release of urine. Another procedure, known as sling surgery, places a small strip of material under the urethra to help prevent it from moving downward during physical activity and causing leakage.
Stress incontinence is a condition that involves losing control over your bladder in certain circumstances, like sneezing, coughing, or exercising. It is a common condition that can be difficult to live with.
If you’ve given birth, are post-menopausal, or have had prostate surgery you are at a higher risk of developing stress incontinence. But luckily there are lifestyle changes or surgical procedures you can get to treat it.