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What affects bladder health?

How often do you find yourself panicking to find a bathroom because the urge to “go” hit hard and suddenly? How often do you dread the possibility of coughing, laughing, or sneezing because you know you are going to inevitably leak? If light bladder leakage is something you battle with every day, you are one of the 16 million women in the U.S. alone that suffers from light bladder weakness. Bladder weakness can be caused by a number of factors – most easily treatable. Read on to find out what affects your bladder health.

Light bladder weakness affects at least one in four women in the U.S. The truth is, there are likely even more women impacted by light bladder weakness but many are too embarrassed to seek treatment. An easy solution is to wear absorbent pads, such as Poise absorbent products, and simply live with the leakage; or a better long-term approach is to find out what is contributing to your weakened bladder control and do something about it. Your doctor can assess your situation and suggest the appropriate treatments.

What causes urinary leakage?

A healthy bladder collects and stores urine until it is full and signals a need to void. The bladder routes urine through the urethra, which is held closed by muscles or sphincters. For many women, these muscles have become weak or damaged, which results in bladder control weakness and urinary leakage. And in some cases, women may not even be able to sense when their bladders are full. Here are the types and causes of bladder weakness. 

Stress incontinence

Women with stress incontinence may experience leakage when straining or exercising, coughing, sneezing and even laughing. Multiple pregnancies and childbirths can cause stretching and damage leading to bladder weakness as well as pelvic surgeries that weaken the pelvic floor. Other causes are being overweight, smoking, alcohol and genetic causes (find out if you have a family history of bladder weakness).

Urge incontinence

Also known as overactive bladder (OAB), urge incontinence is characterized by a sudden urge to go to the bathroom and not being able to make it before you leak. It is often caused by bladder infections or urinary tract infections (UTI), constipation, nerve and muscle damage due to surgery or injury, and conditions that affect the nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and strokes.

Overflow incontinence

Typically affecting men, overflow incontinence is not being able to fully empty the bladder when urinating, resulting in a frequent or constant dribble of urine. Overflow incontinence is caused by weak bladder muscles, a blocked urethra and other medical conditions that can be diagnosed by a doctor.

Mixed incontinence

Many women experience more than one type of incontinence simultaneously or different types depending on the circumstances. The causes may or may not be related and should be properly evaluated by a doctor.


Many women first experience bladder control problems when they become pregnant. At least half of first-time moms-to-be and up to 85 percent of second-timers experience bladder leakage. It is a normal part of pregnancy caused by the upsurge of progesterone, which relaxes the muscles in the body (including those that control your bladder), and the fact that your growing uterus is placing increasing pressure on your bladder. Bladder control usually returns following delivery. However, it is possible that you will need to seek treatment, which typically includes kegel exercises and other healthy lifestyle changes.


Though urinary incontinence can occur with age, it really is not an inevitable part of getting older. Weakened bladder muscles due to multiple pregnancies and deliveries can weaken the pelvic muscles, resulting in bladder weakness, as can the drop in estrogen during menopause. However, these causes can be addressed to help minimize, if not eliminate, bladder leakage.


Some medications can cause bladder weakness by relaxing the pelvic muscles or blocking signals from the bladder to the brain. If you are taking medications to treat a short-term condition, you may need to wear absorbent pads until you are taken off the medication. If your medications are long-term, talk to your doctor about alternatives.

If you have been planning your life around the nearest bathroom, spending less time with your family and friends, and avoiding the gym for fear you will leak, it’s time you see your doctor and take control of your bladder.

For more information, read Bladder Health Through the Ages and Healthy Lifestyle, Healthy Bladder.

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