Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) is the most common type of incontinence. The “stress” in this incontinence refers to a physical stress that’s placed on the urinary system, such as a cough, sneeze, or laugh. About 50% of women occasionally experience SUI. While women experience stress incontinence more often then men, some men do experience it as well.
Causes of Stress Urinary Incontinence
The muscles of your pelvic floor create a hammock that holds your bladder and bowel in place (and in women, your uterus). One of the muscles in this area is called a “sphincter”. The sphincter surrounds and clamps the urethra closed (the urethra is the hollow tube that leads urine out of the body from the bladder). As the pelvic floor muscles weaken or become damaged, the sphincter can lose its ability to completely clamp the urethra closed, especially when you experience a physical stress due to coughing, laughing, or sneezing. When this happens, any amount of urine from a few drops to the entire contents of your bladder can leak out.
Men generally experience SUI following the treatment of enlarged prostate or prostate cancer. Some contributing factors to SUI in women include pregnancy, menopause, and hysterectomy. Smoking and obesity can worsen stress incontinence in both men and women.
Stress incontinence is best prevented by strengthening the pelvic floor muscles with pelvic floor exercises. These exercises (often called Kegel exercises) are especially important before and after prostate surgery in men, and childbirth and hysterectomy in women. It can be difficult to identify the correct muscles to exercise, and people often do the exercises incorrectly without realizing it, so you may want to check with a doctor or nurse. Smoking and obesity have both been linked with SUI, so not smoking and maintaining an ideal body weight both may help prevent incontinence.
While you may assume that you’re experiencing stress urinary incontinence if you leak while exerting physical stress, it is always important to seek medical help for two reasons: 1) your doctor can rule out any other causes that may require treatment and; 2) stress incontinence is highly treatable!
Medical Reviewer: Beth Shelly PT, DPT, BCIA-PMDB
Dr. Shelly is a Doctor of Physical Therapy practicing in the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa. She has practiced for over 20 years, specializing in women’s and men’s health. She currently practices in Moline, Illinois and is available for private instruction, mentoring and lectures. Beth has been widely recognized in her field and is the 2007 recipient of the Elizabeth Noble award for leadership and dedication from the Section on Women’s Health of the American Physical Therapy Association.