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Many women leak urine or wet themselves when they cough, sneeze or exercise (this is called stress incontinence). While there are many treatments to try first, some women need to have surgery for this problem.

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What causes bladder control problems?

Bladder control problems are mainly caused by damage to pelvic floor muscles and the tissues that support them.

The floor of the pelvis is made up of layers of muscle and other tissues. These layers stretch like a hammock around the bladder and vagina from the tailbone at the back to the pubic bone in front. The pelvic floor muscles do a number of things, such as:

  • help to close off the bladder, the vagina (front passage) and the rectum (back passage); and
  • help to hold the bladder, the uterus (womb) and bowel in their proper place.

You can find out more about the pelvic floor muscles in the leaflet ”One in Three Women Who Ever Had a Baby Wet Themselves”. Bladder control problems can start when the pelvic floor muscles are made weaker by:

  • not keeping the muscles active;
  • being pregnant and giving birth;
  • constipation;
  • being overweight;
  • heavy lifting;
  • coughing that goes on for a long time (such as smoker’s cough or asthma); or
  • growing older.



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How can bladder control problems be treated?

The good news is that most women can control their bladder better by making their pelvic floor muscles stronger through training. The leaflet “Pelvic Floor Muscle Training for Women” tells you how. Your doctor, physiotherapist, or continence nurse advisor will also be able to help.


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When is surgery needed?

For a small number of women the more simple methods can fail to help with bladder control, and leaking urine can make day to day life difficult. In these cases surgery may be needed. Surgery should never be a first choice. All surgery has risks. You must discuss these risks with your surgeon.


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What should you ask your surgeon?

Before agreeing to surgery, you should talk about it fully with your surgeon. Make a list of questions that you want to ask. These could cover:

  • why this type of surgery has been chosen for you;
  • how well will it work;
  • what are the details of the surgery;
  • what are the problems that could occur, both short and long term;
  • what sort of scar will be left, what sort of pain will you have;
  • how much time off work will you need to take;
  • how much will it cost; and
  • how long will the effects last?


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Seek help

Qualified nurses are available if you call the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66* (Monday to Friday, between 8.00am to 8.00pm Australian Eastern Standard Time) for free:

  • Information;
  • Advice; and
  • Leaflets.

If you have difficulty speaking or understanding English you can access the Helpline through the free Telephone Interpreter Service on 13 14 50. The phone will be answered in English, so please name the language you speak and wait on the phone. You will be connected to an interpreter who speaks your language. Tell the interpreter you wish to call the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66. Wait on the phone to be connected and the interpreter will assist you to speak with a continence nurse advisor. All calls are confidential.

* Calls from mobile telephones are charged at applicable rates.


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Last Updated: Fri 30, Jul 2021
Last Reviewed: Tue 17, Mar 2020