Urinary incontinence is common in women due to hormonal and physical changes caused by reproduction. Home treatment, medications, and certain procedures or surgery may improve symptoms or stop leaks.

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Urinary incontinence affects twice as many women as men. Past pregnancy and childbirth, as well as menopause, may make leakage more likely due to added stress on your bladder, your urethra, and the muscles surrounding these organs.

While older women are the most likely to experience incontinence, it’s not just a typical part of the aging process. Here’s more about what types of urinary incontinence affect women, what worsens the symptoms, and what treatments may help.

There are two main types of incontinence that affect women. You may experience one, the other, or both (mixed incontinence).

Stress incontinence

Stress incontinence is the most common type of incontinence and the most common type in younger women. Symptoms can happen if your pelvic floor muscles are weak. Any pressure or stress on your bladder that affects your pelvic floor muscles may cause urine leakage.

Some common actions, including coughing, sneezing, and laughing, may worsen stress incontinence. Exercise, such as running and jumping, may also cause leaks.

Urge incontinence

Urge incontinence is also called overactive bladder and is more common in older women. With this type of incontinence, you may have a sudden urge to urinate. The urge may be so strong that you don’t reach the bathroom in time. Alternatively, you may experience frequent bathroom trips with little urine output.

Drinking water or hearing running water may trigger urge incontinence. This type of incontinence may also happen during sleep or at other times when you don’t expect it.

Other types

There are other types of urinary incontinence that may also affect women, though they are less common:

  • Functional incontinence: This type can happen when a physical condition, such as arthritis or a disability, makes getting to the bathroom difficult.
  • Overflow incontinence: Overflow incontinence happens when your body produces too much urine for your bladder to handle.

Language matters

You’ll notice we use the binary terms “women” and “men” in this article. While we realize these terms may not match your gender experience, they are the terms used by the researchers whose data was cited. We try to be as specific as possible when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.

Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t report data for or may not have had participants who are transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.

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For some women, incontinence symptoms happen all the time — day and night. For others, symptoms may occur only during certain activities.

Symptoms include:

  • pelvic pressure or spasms that cause urgency
  • pain when urinating
  • frequent urination during the day (eight or more times)
  • frequent urination at night (two or more times per night)
  • bedwetting or nighttime leaks

Make an appointment with a healthcare professional if you have concerns about your bladder habits or leaks. At your appointment, you’ll have a physical exam and talk with your doctor about your symptoms.

It may be helpful to keep a log of how many times you urinate, which activities cause leaks, and any other relevant information.

A healthcare professional may order tests such as:

  • Urinalysis: a laboratory test in which you provide a urine sample and healthcare professionals test it for urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other possible causes of incontinence
  • Ultrasound: an imaging test in which a healthcare professional uses an ultrasound probe to view your bladder, kidneys, and urethra through your abdomen
  • Stress test: a test in which a healthcare professional will ask you to bear down, cough, or do another activity that causes leakage of urine
  • Cystoscopy: a diagnostic test in which a healthcare professional threads a small tube into your urethra to your bladder to take photos of potentially damaged tissue that may cause incontinence
  • Urodynamics: a set of diagnostic tests in which a healthcare professional places a small tube in your bladder, fills it with water, and measures the pressure it creates before leaking

Treatment for incontinence will depend on the cause. For temporary incontinence caused by a UTI, medication may clear the infection and restore typical function.

True incontinence may take longer to treat. During treatment, you might consider wearing pads or protective underwear to prevent leaks from soaking your clothing.

Home methods

Mild cases of incontinence may respond to home treatment and lifestyle strategies such as:

Medical interventions

More severe cases of incontinence may require help from a healthcare professional.

Treatment options include:

  • medication to relax your bladder and increase the amount of urine it can hold
  • Botox injections to relax your bladder and increase the amount of urine it can hold
  • nerve stimulation to strengthen your bladder muscles
  • biofeedback to help you control your bladder muscles
  • a pessary device to lift your bladder and urethra
  • surgery to increase the amount of urine your bladder can hold

Healthcare professionals my consider bladder removal surgery in the most severe cases of incontinence. After your bladder is removed, urine leaves your body through a specialized urine removal system.

Complications may include anything from an increase in UTIs to development of a bacterial skin infection called cellulitis. People undergoing treatment for incontinence may also experience medication side effects such as dry mouth, constipation, and high blood pressure.

Other possible complications include:

Several factors may increase your chances of experiencing incontinence. Some of these, such aging, are unavoidable, while others may be related to health issues or lifestyle habits that you can address.

You may be more likely to develop urinary incontinence if you:

For most women, home treatment or medical treatment can cure or significantly improve urinary incontinence.

Should I limit my fluid intake if I have incontinence?

No. Water and other fluids are important to your overall health. Health experts recommend consuming 91 ounces of fluids per day even if you have incontinence.

Can I prevent developing incontinence?

Not always. But doing Kegel exercises, maintaining a healthy BMI, and eating plenty of fiber to avoid constipation can help.

How fast do Kegel exercises help with incontinence?

You may see improvement within 3–6 weeks of consistently practicing Kegels. For some people, Kegels cure incontinence. For others, they may only reduce symptoms or prevent incontinence from getting worse.

Urinary incontinence is common in women, but it’s not an inevitable part of aging. If you’re experiencing urgency or leaks, make an appointment with a healthcare professional.

Home treatment, such as doing Kegels and making efforts to lose weight, may reduce or eliminate your symptoms. If your issues continue, medical treatments may be able to help.