Many people have urinary leakage when they cough, laugh or sneeze. This is called stress urinary incontinence (SUI). In some cases, asthma or a chronic cough that lasts for many years can stretch the muscles of the pelvic floor and may make tiny tears in the muscles. These tears may cause stress urinary incontinence.
During surgery, childbirth, or with other physical stress, the muscles of the pelvic floor can become weak, and don’t support the bladder and urethra (the tube leading urine out of the body). This muscle weakness allows urine to leak when you are sneezing, coughing, picking up something heavy, or other similar activities.
In some cases, a chronic cough or asthma can’t be prevented. However, in many cases smoking triggers the chronic cough (smoker’s cough) or asthma. Some people stop leaking when they give up cigarettes.
Pelvic floor exercises can help make the pelvic floor muscles stronger. You may wish to learn to do Kegel exercises with a physical therapist to learn how to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Tightening the pelvic floor before a cough may help prevent leakage.
Many people who live with incontinence do not tell their doctors. In most cases, your stress urinary incontinence can be treated or improved. Please to talk with your health care provider about many of the available options.
Medical Reviewer: Diana Hankey-Underwood, MS, WHNP-BC
Ms. Hankey-Underwood, MS, WHNP-BC, is Executive Director of Grace Anatomy, Inc. She was recently awarded two National awards: the Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health Bayer Health Care 2007 Inspiration in Women’s Health Award and the National Association For Continence 2007 Continence Care Champion (CCC) award.
Her current work includes research on results of pelvic floor surgery, teaching classes on incontinence and working with international surgeons on improving the outcomes for children born with birth defects of the genitourinary and GI systems.