If you or someone you know struggles with loss of bladder control, or urine leakage, you are not alone:
- UI affects men and women, although it is nearly twice as common in women.
- Bladder control problems affect 30 to 50% of women.
- Although the rates go up with age, urinary incontinence among young women is common.
- Though common, UI is NOT “normal” at any age.
Bladder control problems are health issues, which impact your ability to void with normally:
- Urine leakage (urinary incontinence, or UI).
- Loss of urine that occurs at the same time as physical activities that increase abdominal pressure such as sneezing, coughing, laughing, and exercising (stress incontinence, or SUI).
- Inability to hold urine long enough to reach the restroom (urinary urge incontinence, UUI).
- Frequent urination during the day and night (urge frequency).
- Frequent need to void—a combination of both urgency frequency and urge incontinence (overactive bladder).
- Difficulty emptying their bladder (voiding dysfunction).
Certain events or conditions may make a woman more likely to experience UI. Sometimes, very clear-cut events such as pregnancy, vaginal delivery, surgery, radiation or accidental injury can lead to urinary incontinence. Other times, causes may be much less well-defined. And, in many cases, there is no obvious underlying reason for why bladder control problems occur.
There’s also a family link. Some women are born with a weaker pelvic floor. If your mother or sister have bladder control problems, you are at increased risk.
Some medicines, such as diuretics, put you at greater risk for UI. Also, certain health conditions increase your chances of developing incontinence:
- Chronic constipation—which causes excessive bearing down during a bowel movement.
- Obesity—certainly has an effect.
- Lung conditions—ones where pressure from breathing disorders can increase the pressure in the abdomen and pelvis.
- Neurological conditions—for example multiple sclerosis or spina bifida, where nerves and/or muscles may not function correctly.
- Kidney or bladder stones, or even some forms of cancer—can cause the bladder to leak urine. However, this is uncommon.
Life choices can also increase your risk. Women who smoke are at higher risk for developing bladder control problems. Drinking lots of caffeine can also bring on the urge to void. In addition, occupations and physical activities that require heavy lifting or exertion increase your risk.
Original publication date: May 2008; Content updated: November 2014