Stress incontinence is the leaking of small amounts of urine (wee) during activities that increase abdominal pressure and push down on the bladder. Stress incontinence can happen as the result of physical activity or movement such as coughing, sneezing, running, heavy lifting or laughing. It occurs mainly in women but it can also occur in men who have had prostate surgery, who have chronic constipation and strain at the toilet, or who lift weights.

Common causes

Stress incontinence is most common with activities such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, walking, lifting, or participating in sports such as gym and weight lifting. Other factors that contribute to stress incontinence include diabetes, chronic cough (linked with asthma, smoking, bronchitis and some medications), constipation and obesity.

Stress incontinence in women

Stress incontinence in women may be caused by pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. Pregnancy and childbirth can stretch and weaken the pelvic floor muscles that support the urethra (the bladder outlet tube) 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 urethral 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.

Stress incontinence in men

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.


Seeking professional advice is the first step

In many cases incontinence can be prevented, better managed and even cured. Talk to your doctor, a continence health professional or contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66.

The National Continence Helpline is staffed by Nurse Continence Specialists who offer free and confidential information, advice and support. They also provide a wide range of continence-related resources and referrals to local services.


Last Updated: Wed 29, May 2024
Last Reviewed: Mon 23, Mar 2020