Stress incontinence

What is it?

Stress incontinence happens when your bladder leaks urine during physical activity.

Many women have leakage when they:

  • Sneeze
  • Cough
  • Laugh
  • Bend over
  • Rise from a chair
  • Exercise
  • Have sex

What can cause it?

This type of leakage is thought to be caused by weak pelvic floor muscles or weakened supportive tissues in the pelvis.

This may be caused by:

  • Childbirth
  • Injury
  • Surgery in the pelvis
  • Some medicines

How is it treated?

Pelvic floor muscle exercises (Kegels) help make the muscles stronger and work better. This may help you stop leaking urine.

Tightening pelvic floor muscles before doing any activity that often leads to leakage can be helpful.

Squeeze and hold your pelvic floor muscles when you:

  • Go up or down stairs
  • Cough
  • Sneeze

This is often more helpful when done as part of a pelvic floor muscle strengthening program. A physical therapist trained in this can help with exercises.

Talk with your provider if you keep having problems. Some women may decide to try other non-surgical treatment or have surgery for this problem.

You may be offered other treatments, such as: 

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Weight loss
  • Timed voiding
  • Fluid management
  • Physical therapy to strengthen pelvic floor muscles
  • Pessary or vaginal inserts
  • Devices that go into the vagina to help with leaking
  • Surgery
Last reviewed: 
May 2020
Alternative Names: 
Stress urinary incontinence

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