Woman Coughing

May 3 is World Asthma Day. Even though asthma is a condition affecting the respiratory system, it can often have other impacts that aren’t quite as obvious.

Chronic coughing from conditions like asthma contributes significantly to the risk of bladder leakage - also called stress urinary incontinence.

Basically, it comes down to physics; the leakage is the result of greater downward force on the bladder (caused by the sneeze or cough) than the closure force of the urinary sphincter – the ring of muscle that shuts off the urethra. The same thing can happen when we sneeze, laugh, lift heavy weights  or exercise.

When chronic coughing due to asthma, smoking or other lung conditions goes unchecked for a period of time, it can end up straining and weakening the pelvic floor muscles

One of the most important things we can do to help prevent this happening is to strengthen our pelvic floor muscles. They’re the sling-shaped muscles suspended from the tail bone to the pubic bone, and between the sitting bones. As well as holding up our intestines, bladder and other pelvic organs they help close off our bladder and rectum.

Studies show consistently that pelvic floor exercises, when done correctly, reduce the likelihood of stress urinary incontinence.  

It is never normal to have bladder leakage – light or otherwise. In the majority of cases it is preventable and quite treatable. If we do nothing about incontinence, it will only get worse. 

There’s plenty that can be done; for a start,

  • See a health professional and treat the asthma or chronic cough.
  • Learn how to strengthen your pelvic floor by watching the Continence Foundation’s excellent video with physiotherapist and fitness professional Shira Kramer 
  • Consult a continence physiotherapist or speak to one of the continence nurse advisors on the National Continence Helpline (1800 33 00 66).
  • Follow the steps in the Good Bladder Habits for Everyone pamphlet

For more information on incontinence, bladder or bowel issues, contact the National Continence Helpline (1800 33 00 66), a free and confidential service staffed by Nurse Continence Specialists and managed by the Continence Foundation of Australia.