Stress incontinence: Causes, symptoms, exercises, and treatment

stress incontinence Stress incontinence is the result of added pressure on the bladder contributing to urinary frequency and leaks. In many cases, patients are unable to control their urine, so they may experience the urge to urinate in all circumstances. Stress urinary incontinence goes beyond being just a bladder problem and has been linked to social isolation, embarrassment, and even depression.

Anything can trigger stress incontinence – laughing, sneezing, coughing – so a person may be fearful of a possible leakage even if they have to sneeze. It primarily refers to the physical force and does not imply that emotional stress plays a role in urinary urgency or leaks. On the other hand, stress incontinence can heighten one’s emotional stress.


Here we will examine the causes, symptoms, exercises, and treatments for stress urinary incontinence.

Causes and Symptoms of stress incontinence

The main cause of stress incontinence is the weakening of the urinary sphincter. The urinary sphincter is responsible for releasing urine, so when it becomes weak it loses its ability to retain urine.

The bladder expands when it fills up with urine, and the valve-like muscles in the urethra stay shut to prevent leaks. When these muscles get weak, any pressure on the bladder – coughing, sneezing, laughing, certain movements, etc. – can cause leaking.

Childbirth or prostate surgery are some of the reasons for the pelvic floor and urinary sphincter to become weak. Some other contributing factors include illnesses that cause chronic coughing or sneezing, obesity, smoking (which can trigger frequent coughing), excess consumption of caffeine or alcohol, high-impact activities, and hormonal deficiencies.

The primary symptom of stress urinary incontinence is leakage, which can occur when coughing, sneezing, laughing, standing up, getting out of a car, lifting something heavy, exercising, or having sex.

Risk Factors and Complications of Stress Incontinence

There are certain factors which increase a person’s risk of developing stress incontinence. These risk factors include older age and the changes which may accompany aging, the type of childbirth which a woman underwent, for example those who experience vaginal childbirth are more likely to experience stress incontinence later on in life, carrying extra body weight as this puts additional pressure on the bladder, and undergoing pelvic surgery.

Complications that may arise from stress incontinence include personal distress such as experiencing embarrassment for leaks that may occur during activities along with the disruption stress incontinence may cause in your work and personal life, mixed urinary incontinence which is the combination of stress and urge incontinence, and lastly skin rashes or irritations caused by wearing adult diapers or by the constant exposure of skin to urine.

How to Diagnose Stress Incontinence

To first try and narrow down a diagnosis of stress incontinence, your doctor will review your medical history, perform a physical examination, take urine samples to check for any present infections, brief neurological exam, and a urinary stress test where your doctor observes urine leak when your cough or sneeze.

Your doctor will also want to test your bladder function. There are several tests to determine the function of your bladder which includes measuring of post-void residual urine, measuring bladder pressures, creating images of the bladder and its function, and cystoscopy.

Measuring of post-void residual urine: A catheter is inserted into the urethra to the bladder where it drains remaining urine and thus measured.

Measuring bladder pressures: Sometimes a neurological disease is the cause of stress incontinence and so they require a cystometry which measures the pressure in the bladder and surrounding areas when filling. A catheter fills the bladder slowly with fluid and leaks and pressure are then measured.

Creating images of the bladder and its function: Video urodynamics uses imaging to create images of your bladder while it fills and empties. Warm fluid plus dye appear on x-rays and the images are captured during the filling and emptying of the bladder.

Cystoscopy: A scope is inserted into the bladder and is completed in an office setting.

Home remedies and prevention for stress incontinence

Quit Smoking – How Much Longer Will You Live?Living with stress urinary incontinence can be a challenge and even change the way you go about your life as you are constantly fearful you can have an accident at any moment. Here are some home remedies and prevention tips for stress urinary incontinence.

  • Stock up on supplies – carry around extra garments and incontinence products, which can discreetly be stowed away
  • Get familiar with your surroundings – locate nearby bathrooms and figure out your access
  • Empty your bladder prior to sex
  • Try different sexual positions that don’t add more stress to the bladder
  • Do your Kegels
  • Lose extra weight
  • Add fiber to your diet
  • Avoid food and beverage triggers
  • Quit smoking

Stress Urinary Incontinence: Treatment Options

Treatment options for stress urinary incontinence include:

  • Behavioral therapy, which can help you change behaviors and the way you live to reduce occurrence of stress incontinence
  • Pelvic muscle training
  • Prescribed medications
  • Surgery

Pelvic floor exercises for stress incontinence


Kegels are exercises specifically for the muscles of your pelvic floor. They strengthen your ability to hold in urine, thus reducing the risk of leaks and accidents. The good thing about Kegel exercises is that they can be done anywhere at any time because they are super discreet!

To perform Kegels, simply contract your pelvic area as if you were holding in urine, hold the position for a few seconds, release, and repeat. As mentioned, this can be done anytime, because no one knows what you are doing. So whether you are watching TV or sitting in the office, you can exercise and improve your pelvic floor muscles.

Bladder training

You can actually train your bladder to hold more urine. Start by establishing your baseline – how many times do you urinate a day? Once you have an estimated schedule, start training your bladder by holding in your urine for longer durations in-between urine breaks each day. By practicing this technique, your bladder will “learn” to hold more urine over time.


Your doctor will provide you with a device that will let them know if you are squeezing the right muscles while performing pelvic floor exercises. This way, you can better improve your technique in order to promote a strong bladder.


Abs and core exercises

Working out your abdomen and core will not only improve posture and strength, but can also strengthen your bladder. This is because, according to a mounting body of research, the pelvic and core muscles work together. Taking part in regular exercise with a focus on strengthening your core and back may provide you with some benefits for your bladder as well.

As you can see, there are natural methods to make your bladder stronger and to better manage your overactive bladder condition. By combining home remedies with exercises, you can reduce urinary urgency and prevent the leaks.


Related Reading:

Urinary incontinence in men: Natural home remedies for male incontinence

Mixed incontinence causes, symptoms, and treatments