Stress incontinence is the leaking of small amounts of urine during activities that increase pressure inside the abdomen and push down on the bladder. This occurs mainly in women and sometimes in men (most often as a result of prostate surgery).
Stress incontinence is most common with activities such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, walking, lifting, or playing sport. Other factors contributing to stress incontinence include diabetes, chronic cough (linked with asthma, smoking or bronchitis), constipation and obesity.
Stress incontinence in women is often caused by pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. Pregnancy and childbirth can stretch and weaken the pelvic floor muscles that support the urethra causing stress incontinence during activities that push down on the bladder.
During menopause, oestrogen (a female hormone) is produced in lower quantities. Oestrogen helps to maintain the thickness of the urethra lining to keep the urethra sealed after passing urine (much like a washer seals water from leaking in a tap). As a result of this loss of oestrogen, some women experience stress incontinence during menopause.
Many men develop stress incontinence after prostate surgery. This can take 6 to 12 months to resolve and it is recommended that men seek help from a health professional to address the issue.