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Stress Urinary Incontinence – Not a Laughing Matter
This information was provided by Ethicon Women’s Health & Urology,
Division of Ethicon, Inc.

Urinary incontinence occurs when a woman leaks urine from her urethra- the tube that carries urine from your bladder and out of your body.

If you've ever leaked urine when you laughed or sneezed, you may have chalked it up as a simple accident, but for many women, bladder leaks are a surprisingly common occurrence.

Maybe you find that pressure from coughing, picking up something heavy or exercising causes recurring urine leaks. Many women cope by wearing sanitary napkins or dark clothing, planning trips around restroom facilities, even sticking closer to home - anything to shield them from embarrassment.
You may be struggling with symptoms of a common condition called, urinary incontinence but you're not alone. Forty-five percent of US women have some degree of urinary incontinence1.

There are treatment options available that you may want to discuss with your physician. You can also assess your symptoms and see what your body may be trying to tell you. Click here to answer a few questions about your condition and learn about treatment options that may be right for you.

Types of Urinary Incontinence

There are 4 types of urinary incontinence that are most common in women:

  • Stress urinary incontinence: The involuntary release or leakage of urine during sudden movements like coughing, sneezing, laughing, and exercising.
  • Urge Incontinence: The sudden, intense urge to urinate, followed by bladder leakage. You may feel like you never get to the bathroom fast enough, or you may wake up several times a night with a strong urge to urinate.
  • Mixed Incontinence: Occurs when women have symptoms of both stress and urge incontinence.
  • Overflow Incontinence: The bladder doesn’t completely empty due to dysfunctional nerves or a blockage in the urethra that prevents urine flow.

One of the most common types of incontinence, stress urinary incontinence, affects women of all ages. In fact, 1 in 3 women suffer from stress urinary incontinence1.

Stress Urinary Incontinence

Stress urinary incontinence is a common, treatable condition in which sudden movements put stress on the bladder, causing urine to leak out involuntarily. Stress urinary incontinence is one of the most common types of urinary incontinence among women.

Because bladder leakage can be embarrassing, many women don’t talk about SUI or realize how common it is.

You may have stress urinary incontinence if you’ve experienced involuntary urine leakage while:

  • Laughing
  • Sneezing
  • Jumping
  • Standing up or lying down
  • Lifting something heavy
  • Exercising

Causes of Stress Urinary Incontinence

Stress rinary incontinence occurs when pelvic muscles supporting the bladder and urethra have been damaged or weakened, so that they may not hold the urethra in its correct position. Sudden movements from the diaphragm put stress on the bladder, causing the urethra to lose its seal and allowing urine to leak out.

Factors that can lead to stress urinary incontinence include:

  •  Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Frequent heavy lifting
  • Estrogen deficiency or menopause
  • Obesity

Incontinence can also be a symptom of other pelvic health issues, like pelvic organ prolapse, a condition in which organs in the pelvic region shift out of their normal position. Click here to learn more about pelvic organ prolapse.

Treatment Options for Stress Urinary Incontinence

Stress urinary incontinence is treatable at any age, but not all approaches work for every person or for every type of incontinence. There are a variety of treatment options, some of which may involve surgery.

Non-surgical Treatments for Stress Urinary Incontinence

  • Behavioral/Muscle Therapy: Therapy often starts with Kegel exercises to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. Depending on the severity of your condition, however, Kegels may not bring sufficient relief.
  • Biofeedback: In this method, the patient exercises the pelvic floor muscles while connected to an electrical sensing device. The device provides “feedback” to help you learn how to better control these muscles. Over time, biofeedback can help you use your pelvic muscles to decrease sudden urges to urinate and lessen certain types of pelvic pain.
  • Electrical stimulation: This approach aids pelvic floor exercises by isolating the muscles involved for extra stimulus.
  • Medication: Some types of urinary incontinence, like urge incontinence, can be treated with medications; however, there is currently no medication approved to treat stress urinary incontinence in the US.

For women whose incontinence is caused by pelvic organ prolapse, a pessary can be inserted into the vagina to support and reposition the pelvic area. This small device can help relieve mild symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse, including incontinence. In some instances, a pessary may make urinary incontinence worse; if this happens, see your doctor to discuss other treatment options.

Effective Surgical Options

While mild symptoms of incontinence may be treated using the methods described above, women with more serious symptoms may respond best to a surgical procedure.

Today’s minimally invasive options mean you may be able to treat incontinence with an outpatient operation. In one type of treatment, your surgeon inserts a tape-like piece of mesh through very small incisions in the abdomen or vagina to support the urethra. The mesh acts as a backboard to close the urethra when an activity such as a cough or sneeze occurs. Click here to learn more about this procedure to treat stress urinary incontinence.

Patients with incontinence associated with pelvic organ prolapse may opt for a pelvic floor repair procedure. During the procedure, the surgeon repositions the prolapsed or “dropped” organs and secures them to the surrounding tissues and ligaments, sometimes reinforced with a piece of soft mesh. Click here to learn more about this procedure to treat pelvic organ prolapse.

Be sure to talk to a doctor about the treatment options that may be best for you. Click here for a list of questions to ask your doctor about stress urinary incontinence.

Before making a final decision about your treatment, review all your options and consider getting a second opinion. Click here to find a list of physicians in your area who may be able to help you.

Why keep planning your life around incontinence if you don't have to?


  1. Melville, JL, Katon W, Delaney K, Newton, K. Urinary incontinence in US women. A population-based study. Arch Intern Med. 2005;165:537-542.

For more on urinary incontinence in women, click this link.

Recommended keywords: urinary incontinence in women, urinary incontinence treatment, urinary incontinence surgery, urinary incontinence after childbirth.


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