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What is Stress incontinence?

Three women laughing outdoors
Stress incontinence, or stress urinary incontinence (SUI) describes a condition that causes urine to leak when you laugh, sneeze, cough, stand up, lift a heavy object or during other types of activity that require physical effort. It is the most common form of urinary incontinence among women. Stress incontinence causes include lifestyle choices, medical complications, pregnancy and obesity. For those affected, stress incontinence can have a disruptive effect on work, social life, relationships and sex life. 

Why does stress incontinence occur?

Stress urinary incontinence occurs when the important support for the urinary tract and bladder is not functioning properly. This condition can be caused by weakness in the ligaments and pelvic floor muscles or impaired functionality of the urethral sphincter muscles. This affects the support that helps provide normal urinary function. 
 
As the bladder fills with urine, it expands. In a fully functioning urethra, valve-like muscles stay shut as this happens. This prevents urine leakage occurring until such a time as we can reach a bathroom and relieve ourselves. However, as these muscles weaken, any activity that exerts force on the abdominal and pelvic muscles can apply pressure to the bladder, causing involuntary urine leakage. 

What causes pelvic floor muscles to lose strength?

For women, the most common reason strength is lost in the in pelvic floor muscles and urinary sphincter is childbirth. During delivery, women may suffer from tissue or nerve damage to their pelvic floor. Stress incontinence directly related to this damage may start soon after childbirth however in some cases it may take years to occur. 
 
For men, the most common scenario that causes stress incontinence is after a prostatectomy – partial removal of the prostate gland as a part of treatment for an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer. 

Are there other factors that can exacerbate stress incontinence?

Research suggests that stress incontinence could be made worse by any of the following 
  • Illnesses that cause chronic coughing or sneezing
  • Obesity 
  • Smoking
  • Not doing pelvic floor training
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Pregnancy
  • Repeated heavy lifting that puts extra pressure on the pelvic floor muscles

Ageing

The pelvic floor muscles can also become weaker in women as a result of changes to muscle tone and structure after menopause. 

Chronic constipation

Chronic constipation involving long periods spent sitting and straining to empty the bowel puts regular, unnecessary pressure on the pelvic floor muscles that can lead to stress urinary incontinence.

Are there any other physical complications?

Stress incontinence can also cause physical side effects including skin irritation or rashes due to increased contact between skin and drops of urine. As a result, it becomes important to keep skin dry, clean, properly moisturised and protected. To help you achieve this, TENA has developed a range of skincare products that help prevent skin issues and maintain skin health.

Stress incontinence treatment

In some cases, physicians recommend programs of weight loss and pelvic floor exercise. These have been used to successfully treat stress incontinence. When it comes to treating the symptoms of stress incontinence such as urine leakage and dripping, TENA offers a wide range of products that deal with these discreetly and effectively. Our pads, pants and other incontinence products are designed to keep you dry and odour-free. This way, you can continue to enjoy an active lifestyle even if you are affected by stress incontinence. 
 
For men affected by stress incontinence or stress urinary incontinence, our specially created range offers effective, discreet solutions.

What are pelvic floor exercises – or Kegel exercises?

Pelvic floor exercises can also help ease the symptoms of stress incontinence.