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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Stress Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the involuntary loss of bladder control that affects millions of Americans. It can happen to anyone, but becomes more common with age. This condition is usually related to the weakening of muscles controlling the bladder or, as in the case of overactive bladder (OAB), when those muscles become too active.

If the muscles keeping the bladder closed become too weak, or if the supportive structures have weakened to cause the bladder to drop, activity such as sneezing, laughing, coughing or heavy lifting can cause involuntary loss of urine. This is referred to as stress incontinence.

If the bladder muscles become too active, an individual may feel a strong urge to urinate even when they have little urine in their bladder. This is urge incontinence, a form of OAB.

Problems with the prostate and nerve damage can also lead to urinary incontinence.

Treatment focuses on strengthening and supporting the urethral sphincter and pelvic muscles to better control urination. The most common treatment options are:

  • Sling procedure (a minor vaginal surgery), which is very effective for treating urinary incontinence
  • Physical therapy to improve support of the pelvic floor and urethra
  • Periurethral injections of bulking agents


Last UpdateDecember 6, 2011