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How do I know if I have stress urinary incontinence?

Dr. Robert Mayson,

Millions of women across the country suffer from stress urinary incontinence—a condition where the pelvic muscles that control urination are weakened, leading to unexpected urination during times of physical stress. It’s a very common condition, especially for women who have had children or are going through menopause. But it still carries a stigma that makes women reluctant to reveal it to others or seek treatment.

What causes stress urinary incontinence?

There are several types of conditions involving urinary incontinence, but true stress urinary incontinence in women occurs when the pelvic muscles that support your bladder and control urination are weakened. This weakness can be caused by childbirth, pelvic surgery, menopause and injury to the urethra.

The most common sign that you may be suffering from stress urinary incontinence is if you urinate during times when your body is under immediate physical stress—such as when you cough, sneeze or even laugh. It can also occur when you lift heavy objects or bend over. Tests can also be done to diagnose stress incontinence and differentiate it from other types of urinary incontinence.

What are my options to correct my stress urinary incontinence?

For a long time, conditions like stress urinary incontinence were treated with open and invasive surgical procedures. But they were found to be frequently unsuccessful, and the repair only held up for a short period of time. Today, surgeons are treating women using shorter and less invasive procedures, such as a mid-urethral sling procedure, which can be done vaginally in one day, without the need for a hospital stay. These methods have been proven to be much more reliable, leading to more patients being happy with their final results.

There are also non-surgical steps you can take to reduce the severity of your stress urinary incontinence. These include lifestyle changes like drinking fewer fluids, avoiding activities that require a lot of running or jumping and—if you are overweight—developing a weight-loss plan to help take pressure off of your stomach and bladder. Pelvic floor therapy is also an option for women to help strengthen their pelvic muscles through exercises and other rehabilitation treatments.

As with any health condition, patients should discuss their condition with their provider and review all treatment options that are available to them. Contact Dr. Mayson or the RWJ Center for Women’s Health for more information.

—Dr. Robert Mayson, Gynecology, Gynecologic Surger RWJ Center for Women’s Health, rwjwomenshealth.com.

This content is intended to encourage a healthy lifestyle. For medical advice and treatment, see a physician. Concerned about your health? Send your questions to askthedoc@rwjbh.org.