Stress incontinence 101
Do you wee when you sneeze? How about when you laugh, cough, or lift something heavy? If so, you are not alone, says Dr Elizabeth Kavaler, a urologist.
These are symptoms of stress urinary incontinence, which affects as many as one in three women at some point in their lives.
It occurs when urine leaks out due to sudden pressure on the bladder and urethra, the tube that moves urine out of your bladder. It’s more common in women than men because anatomically, they have shorter urethras.
The problem may start when you sneeze, but left untreated, urine may begin to leak with less forceful activities like standing up, walking, or bending.
The greater the pressure, the more likely you are to leak, Dr Kavaler says. And sneezing produces a lot of pressure.
It’s not the same thing as an overactive bladder or urge incontinence, she adds.
“With stress incontinence, there is a mechanical pressure that results in squirting,” Dr Kavaler explains. By contrast, urge incontinence is marked by a sudden and overwhelming ‘gotta-go’ feeling.
“You put the key in the door and still can’t make it to the bathroom,” she notes. Women can have both forms of incontinence at the same time.
Here’s everything you need to know about why you wee when you sneeze, diagnosing the issue, and treatment options.
So, why do I wee when I sneeze?
What gives? The short answer is your pelvic floor.
Your pelvic floor supports your bladder and urethra, and stretching or damaging it increases your risk for stress incontinence.
Lots of things can affect your pelvic floor, including pregnancy, childbirth, surgeries in and around this area, chronic coughing, smoking, connective tissue diseases such as lupus, hormonal changes, nerve injuries, and being overweight or obese.
“As one ages, all sorts of factors contribute to developing stress incontinence,” Dr Kavaler says.
It’s more common in women, but men can also develop stress urinary incontinence, especially after prostate surgery.
Ask a doctor about symptoms
Several types of doctors can diagnose and treat stress incontinence, including urologists, gynaecologists, urogynaecologists, and internists, Dr Kavaler says. Urogynaecologists super specialise in pelvic floor disorders.
If you are leaking, speak up, especially if your doctor doesn’t ask, says Dr Melissa Laudano, a urologist, and urogynaecologist and an assistant professor, urology and of obstetrics and gynaecology.
“There is no reason to be embarrassed. This is so common and highly treatable,” she says.