It may be when you laugh, cough or least expect it. It is something that you might be embarrassed about, but you shouldn't feel isolated because it’s actually a very common problem. It's estimated up to six million women in the UK have some degree of urinary incontinence. Men can also have urinary incontinence, but it's less common.

What causes urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence happens when part of the urinary system or nervous system is not working properly. It can occur at any age, but does become more common as you get older.

However, it’s something you needn’t put up with, because there are plenty of treatments that can help you. There’s no need to let it stop you doing the activities you enjoy like socialising or exercise as we can easily treat it.

Types of urinary incontinence

Stress incontinence and urge incontinence are two common types of the condition. Overflow incontinence is less common.

Stress incontinence

Stress incontinence is not related to emotional stress. It’s when you pass urine without wanting to. 

What causes stress incontinence?

It may happen when you cough, sneeze or laugh and put pressure on the bladder.

There are muscles at the opening of the bladder. These usually form a seal so urine doesn’t leak out.  If these muscles are weakened (perhaps after the strain of childbirth, or after the menopause when the tissue becomes weaker due to the lack of oestrogen) the seal can leak.

Treatment for stress incontinence

For stress incontinence, treatment involves strengthening the muscles that support the bladder neck. Our experienced physiotherapists can offer a great deal of assistance with pelvic floor exercises. Surgery may be an option after you have tried other treatments. There are procedures to strengthen and lift the muscles that support the bladder neck. Or a synthetic sling can be inserted to help support the bladder neck and stop urine leakage.

Urge incontinence

This happens when you have a strong urge to pass urine, you can’t get to the toilet in time, and you can’t stop yourself.

What causes urge incontinence?

An overactive bladder can cause it. The bladder is made up of muscle fibres and fills up like a balloon. If the bladder fills and becomes irritable, it may contract at an inappropriate time, causing a strong need to pass urine.

If you think you have urge incontinence, it’s best to see a consultant. The consultant may ask you to fill in a ‘bladder diary’ and answer some questions related to your urinary problems.

Treatment for urge incontinence

Treatment for urge incontinence is not normally surgical but our specialists can advise on how we can help. Don’t let it get you down. There are ways we can remedy this condition, including bladder retraining and medication.

Overflow incontinence

If you urinate more often than you normally do, or experience frequent dribbling, your bladder may not be fully emptying. These are symptoms of overflow incontinence.

What causes overflow incontinence?

It may happen due to a blockage or weak bladder.

A blockage in the bladder, urethra, or other area of the urinary system. For example, in men, an enlarged prostate can block the flow of urine from the bladder through the urethra, making it difficult to fully empty the bladder.

A weak bladder contraction can cause the bladder to enlarge; the opening may expand and allow urine to leak. Contractions might be caused by nerve damage or atrophy (shrinking) of the muscles in and around the bladder.

How common is urinary incontinence?

  • Around one in three adults will experience some urinary problem at different stages of their lives
  • Up to one in four women with a problem with incontinence has never discussed her condition with a health care provider
  • Urinary incontinence is twice as common in women as it is in men

The most important thing is to speak to your GP or a medical professional if you're experiencing any symptoms of urinary incontinence. There's nothing to feel embarrassed about and there are often various treatment options to help you feel better.