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Stress incontinence

Woman's legs in a bathroom
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What is stress incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is when you involuntarily pass urine, and stress incontinence is when urine leaks out of your body when your bladder is under pressure. This is not linked to when you are under stress or feeling stressed.

Urine may leak when you:

  • Cough
  • Sneeze
  • Laugh
  • Move suddenly
  • Lift something heavy
  • Have sex
  • Exercise

You may not experience stress incontinence every time you do one of these things however when your bladder is full any of these pressure-increasing activities can cause urine to leak.

What causes stress incontinence?

When the muscles that support the bladder (pelvic floor muscles) and the muscles that regulate the release of urine (urinary sphincter) are weakened, stress incontinence can occur. These muscles can be weakened by childbirth for women or prostrate surgery for men.

Other factors that can increase your risk of experiencing stress incontinence include:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • High-impact activities that you do for many years
  • Illnesses that cause chronic coughing or sneezing
  • Ageing
  • Vaginal childbirth or childbirth with forceps
  • Pelvic surgery

Can you cure stress incontinence?

The first course of treatment with anyone who experiences stress incontinence is to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles with exercises. These will help to strengthen the muscles that support your bladder and allow it to withstand more pressure without leaking. There are devices that can help you to tone your pelvic floors electronically if you would prefer, otherwise you can do sets of squeezes throughout the day to naturally strengthen your pelvic floors.

You will also need to make sure that you are consuming enough fluids throughout the day as well as living a healthy lifestyle. Limiting your caffeine intake and not smoking will help to lower your risk of developing stress incontinence. Your GP will be able to talk you through other medical and surgical treatments that would be suitable for you. However many women find changing their lifestyle can cure their stress incontinence and so medication or surgery is not needed.

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What are pelvic floor exercises?

Pelvic floor exercises include squeezing the muscles that control the flow of urine from your vagina. You can feel these muscles if you go to the toilet and stop the flow of urine (doing this often is not recommended), or you can place a finger inside your vagina and as you squeeze the muscles you will feel your vagina tightening. Once you have located the muscles you can begin to do the exercises, which include doing a long squeeze followed by ten short squeezes and then repeat the cycle. You will need to do these exercises everyday to feel the benefit.

If I have a natural birth, will I become incontinent?

No not necessarily. If before pregnancy, during pregnancy and once you have given birth, you do regular pelvic floor exercises you chances of developing stress incontinence following childbirth and later in life are lowered.

Can losing weight help with stress incontinence?

If you are overweight or obese you will have an increased risk of having stress incontinence, as excess body weight puts extra pressure on the bladder. If you chose to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight your risk of having stress incontinence will be lower, simply because the bladder is put under a lot less pressure but over parts of the body.