<< Back

When I Sneeze, I Pee. Here’s What to Do About Stress Incontinence

February 28, 2023

It starts with a sneeze, a cough, or even a laugh, and it’s followed by a moment of panic as you make a mad dash to the nearest bathroom.

Sound familiar? You’re in good company – about 30-65% of women in the United States experience involuntary loss of urine.

“Stress incontinence is involuntary urine leakage in relationship to physical activities, such as coughing,” says Jacquelyne Phanavong, PA-C, with the Tallwood Urology & Kidney Institute in Plainville and West Hartford.

So what’s the cause of stress incontinence, and more importantly – what can be done about it? Phanavong explains.

> Connect with the Tallwood Urology & Kidney Institute

Bladder stress

Stress incontinence occurs when the muscles and tissues supporting the pelvic floor and muscles that control the release of urine (urinary sphincter) weaken.

“Women’s pelvic floor muscles and urinary sphincter may lose strength after childbirth because stretching of tissue or nerve damage during delivery can weaken those muscles,” Phanavong explains.

Others can experience leaky bladder due to aging and dietary issues.

If you leak during these activities, you may have stress incontinence:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Laughing
  • Bending over
  • Jumping
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Exercising
  • Having sex

Want more health news? Text StartHere to 85209 to sign up for text alerts

Stop the flow

If stress incontinence is becoming an issue, talk to your doctor about pelvic floor therapy.

“Pelvic floor therapy is a great option for women experiencing these symptoms. A therapist will coach you through a variety of exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles so they work more effectively and efficiently,” Phanavong says.

Pelvic health therapists might also help you look at your diet as part of the treatment plan. Lifestyle changes that can also help include:

  • Keeping a healthy body weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Timing and limiting your caffeine intake, or eliminating it altogether

Serious steps

If lifestyle changes and physical therapy don’t help, Phanavong says there are several other options to help control bladder leakage.

These include:

  1. Surgical procedure to insert a sling in the abdomen to support the worn muscles holding the bladder
  2. Pessary, a device that medical providers or patients can insert themselves to hold the organ in the abdomen in place
  3. Injections of a urethral bulking agent is a water-based gel that restores the natural closing of the urethra