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What is Stress incontinence?

What is Stress incontinence?

Ever leaked a little when you laugh, cough or sneeze? You’re probably not alone, but chances are not many of your friends will admit it if you asked them. The reality is though, that stress incontinence actuality affects millions of people across the globe, and according to the NHS around 3-6 million in the UK experience it to some extent.  

It’s more common in women too- so we’ve decided to tackle this taboo head on, with a deeper dive into what exactly stress incontinence is, what causes it and what we can do to manage it safely. 

What causes stress incontinence? 

Stress incontinence occurs when your bladder is under pressure, and urine leaks out when you laugh or sneeze. Most of us have been there, but why exactly does this happen? We spoke to Dr Stuart Sanders, GP at The London General Practice for the low down. 

He told us:

“The kidneys filter the circulating blood producing urine which is stored in the urinary bladder.  When the bladder is full, there is a sensation to empty the bladder. There are muscles in the pelvis that maintain the pelvic organs in their place.  Within them is the bladder sphincter muscle which surrounds the bladder neck, retaining urine in the bladder. 


So, what can go wrong?  The pelvic and bladder muscles may weaken, leading to prolapse of the uterus (womb) when it loses its support. This changes the anatomy so that the sphincter cannot work efficiently.  The reason for this is muscle weakness due to either stretching during childbirth, or age-related muscle weakness. Stress incontinence becomes apparent when the woman, or person with a womb, strains.  This can be due to coughing, sneezing, running, straining in the toilet etc. The person will experience involuntary loss of control of urine.”

Other factors include being overweight or obese, and a family history of incontinence too. 

Treating urinary incontinence

What is Stress incontinence

Trust us, we get it. Incontinence can be an embarrassing topic, but it really shouldn't be. It's a topic we need need to talk more openly about- after all, it’s almost guaranteed that your doctor has seen and heard it all before, and sometimes medical advice is definitely recommended. 

Dr. Sanders told us,

“The first consideration is how bad the urine leakage is, how long the problem has been present and when a course of pelvic physiotherapy has not improved the condition.  Of course, if the patient has a large prolapse which has not improved with physiotherapy, referral to a doctor is necessary. If stress incontinence is affecting your quality of life it is time to see your GP. There is no need to suffer, and a doctor can help manage the condition." 

It can be helpful to keep a note of your symptoms and how often you experience urine leaks, how often you use the loo and how much fluid you drink each day. This can all help to paint a clearer picture for your doctor. 

Non-surgical treatments

Your doctor might suggest a range of at-home treatments to try, most of which can be easily implemented. 

Pelvic floor exercises

Pelvic floor exercises are a fantastic way to not only strengthen up the muscles and improve symptoms of stress incontinence, but to help prevent it happening in the first place too. Everybody should perform pelvic floor exercises, whether you suffer with incontinence or not- and that goes for men too!

Dr. Sanders advocates for pelvic floor exercises too:

"Pelvic floor exercises increase the tone (strength) of the pelvic muscles.  When appropriately performed they will often improve the pelvic anatomy and help with bladder control and urine leakages.  Ideally, they should be tried under the instruction of a pelvic muscle trained physiotherapist.”

There are some yoga poses which are particularly good for the pelvic floor- see this post for more information. And don’t forget a pair of our amazing period leggings to absorb your flow and to catch any sneezy leaks while you work out. 

What is Stress incontinence

Lifestyle changes

Being overweight can put added strain on your pelvic floor muscles and make incontinence an issue. Try to eat a heathy and balanced diet, avoiding alcohol and heavily processed foods as much as you can. 

Losing weight will help massively, and have an overall positive effect on many other areas of your life too- speak to your GP about safe and healthy ways to do this. Its also a really good idea to exercise regularly too, to maintain muscle tone and strength. 

We recommend WUKA Drytech™ incontinence pants to help you manage light leaks and dribbles. These pants are soft and super comfy, helping to keep you dry and odour free, using Polygiene OdourCrunch™ technology and Polygiene StayFresh™ technology.

Another bonus of our new Drytech™ pants? They're made with our innovative stretch technology, so they gently expand to fit up to four sizes.

Available in both midi brief and high waist style, these pants come in just two sizes- XS- L and XL- 4XL- and in three colour ways- black, light nude and coral- you can wear a pair and keep a couple handy. 

Bladder training

Your GP might refer you for bladder training, which is particularly useful if you’ve been diagnosed with urge incontinence. This is when you frequently feel a very sudden and urgent need to pee, and can sometimes happen with a UTI.  

The NHS says, bladder training “involves learning techniques to increase the length of time between feeling the need to urinate and passing urine.” This training is done alongside pelvic floor training in some cases.  

Incontinence pants

Wearing Drytech™ reusable incontinence pants won’t treat the condition itself, but they can make it easier to manage. They’re super comfortable and safe for all to use. They’ll absorb any leaks that might occur, keeping the fluid locked away from your body so you stay dry and comfortable. Then you simply wash them after use, to re-use again another day. 

What is Stress incontinence

Surgical treatments

There are some surgical treatments that might be recommend by your doctor if non-surgical treatments aren’t successful. 

  • Colposuspension- where a cut is made to the lower abdomen, and the neck of the bladder is lifted then stitched in that position. This can be an effective long-term solution to incontinence.
  • Sling surgery- where a cut is made in the lower abdomen and vagina, and a sling is placed around the neck of the bladder. This supports the bladder, preventing it from leaking.
  • Vaginal mesh surgery- where a strip of synthetic mesh is placed behind the urethra to support it. Currently, the NHS does not support this surgery unless there is absolutely no alternative and a procedure is needed urgently. 
  • Urethral bulking agents- a procedure for people with a vagina, where a urethral bulking agent is injected into the urethra walls. This increases the size of the urethral walls, helping it stay closed more effectively.  

The bottom line on stress incontinence

Stress incontinence can be caused by a number of factors, including childbirth and the ageing process. It’s common, it’s normal and its nothing to be embarrassed about. Do speak to your doctor if you experience leaks when you cough, laugh or sneeze- there are easy remedies that you can do at home to prevent it getting any worse.

Never skip your pelvic floor exercises, and maintain a healthy diet with plenty of exercise. Oh, and if you do suffer the occasional leak (you’re definitely not alone!) make sure you have a pair of WUKA incontinence pants to hand, to absorb your flow and keep you comfy and dry. 

Related posts

What is Urinary Incontinence?

What is Vaginal Weightlifting?

Pelvic Floor Anatomy

How to Get Rid of a UTI


How do you stop stress incontinence?

Most people can treat stress incontinence with a few lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Regular pelvic floor exercises
  • Avoiding smoking and alcohol
  • Treating constipation

In some cases, your doctor might refer you for surgical treatments, make an appointment to discuss the best option for you.

What is a major cause of stress incontinence?

Stress incontinence happens when the bladder is under pressure, such as when you laugh, cough or sneeze. It’s mainly caused by either childbirth or the natural ageing process. 

What are the early symptoms of stress incontinence?

If you notice that urine leaks when you laugh, cough or sneeze you could be experiencing stress incontinence. Speak to your GP for advice on how to manage it safely.