Female Stress Incontinence

Women aged over the age of 40 are the most likely to be affected by stress incontinence, although the condition affects men also and can develop at an earlier age.

However, there are many risk factors for female stress incontinence which apply to women once they approach the age of 40 and above.

Risk factors include:

  • Pregnancy – carrying the growing weight of the baby puts additional stress on your pelvic floor. At the same time, the hormone relaxin softens the pelvic floor muscles in preparation for childbirth. Around half of pregnant women suffer stress incontinence and symptoms improve after childbirth for many, but some will continue to experience problems. Often, symptoms can improve with simple measures such as pelvic floor exercises and lifestyle modifications, but for some women, the problem will persist
  • Childbirth – a vaginal delivery can stretch, damage and bruise the nerves around the pelvic floor and as a result, they may not respond as well as before. It appears that women who have had a tear or episiotomy face a greater risk of developing urinary incontinence.
  • Smoking – smoking is linked to stress incontinence because the chronic cough associated with smoking puts pressure on the pelvic floor and exacerbates symptoms.
  • Menopause – oestrogen levels are lower which weakens the muscles around your urethra.
  • Excessive weight – being overweight results in increased pressure on your abdomen and pelvic floor.
  • Hysterectomy – the operation carries a risk of damage to the pelvic floor.

Treating stress incontinence effectively need not involve surgery. Physiotherapy and behavioural approaches can be very helpful and for many, will resolve the problem. However, if you do require surgery for female incontinence there is a wide range of good surgical options.