Urinary incontinence is a common problem. Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) is the most common type of incontinence suffered by women, especially older women. 

Before we understand more about UI, let’s take a glance at the functioning of your urinary system.

Your urinary system, also known as the renal system or the urinary tract, consists of four main organs, namely the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The foremost functions of your urinary system are to eliminate waste from your body, regulate blood volume, blood pressure, and maintain blood pH (the measure of the acidity of your blood). 

  • Your kidneys make urine by filtering out wastes and extra water from the blood. 

  • Urine travels from your kidneys through the two thin tubes called ureters and fills up your bladder (a muscular, pear-shaped organ in your lower abdomen that stores urine).

  • Once your bladder is full, you urinate through the urethra to eliminate the wastes.

It is also important to understand the role of your pelvic floor muscles, a group of muscles found in the floor (the base) of your pelvis (the bottom of your torso), in urination. 

Relaxing your pelvic floor muscles allows the passage of urine and faeces. Any changes in their function and strength can contribute to disorders and lead to urinary incontinence.

5 Things You Need to Know About Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) in Women

1. What is Urinary Incontinence?

Urinary Incontinence (UI) is the loss of bladder control or the loss of control over your urination. In other words, it is the involuntary leakage of small amounts of urine, from the urethra, which is the tube, urine passes through. UI usually occurs when you cough, sneeze, or while you're exercising.

UI may be of 3 types:

a) Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI): wherein small to moderate amounts of urine leaks without your control. This happens during an increased pressure on your bladder for example; while coughing, sneezing, or laughing. 

A common phenomenon in women, SUI occurs at least once a week in about one-third of the adult women population. 

b) Urge Urinary Incontinence (UUI): results in moderate to a large leak of urine when the bladder suddenly contracts without control. You might typically complain that when your bladder fills up and you feel the urge to urinate, the urine seems to leak even before you reach the toilet. This happens because of an overactive bladder. 

c) Mixed Urinary Incontinence (MUI): when you have a mixture of the different symptoms of SUI and UUI, then you experience MUI. This may happen as a result of an overactive bladder. This is again commonly seen in most elderly women.

Other types of incontinence that women can experience are functional incontinence and overflow incontinence. 

2. What are the common factors resulting in SUI in women?

a) Vaginal delivery (more if forceps are used): After giving birth, your body continues to experience hormonal changes that can affect your bladder and also place extra pressure on your bladder. This added pressure and stretching can cause SUI. 

b) Overweight: Being overweight (obesity) is excessive fat accumulation around your abdomen. Fatty tissues in your abdominal cavity can weaken your pelvic floor muscles and cause incontinence because of the pressure of these tissues on your bladder. 

c) Nerve injuries to the lower back: Nerve injuries in your lower back can weaken pelvic floor muscles and add pressure on your bladder, leading to SUI. 

d) Chronic cough: A chronic cough can put sudden extra pressure on your bladder and weaken the pelvic floor muscles, increasing the chances of SUI.

e) Smoking: Smoking induces or causes a chronic cough, which in turn, can cause SUI.

f) Pelvic surgery: Pelvic surgery is done as a result of pregnancy, pelvic floor, and muscle repair, childbirth or age-factors can put extra pressure on your bladder and pelvic floor muscles.

3. What are the symptoms of SUI in women?

Symptoms of stress incontinence include frequent urination and nighttime urination. It results in overwhelming urges to urinate suddenly at odd times.

4. How can you gauge the severity of SUI?

Even in times of increased bladder pressure, your urine is not supposed to leak because of the muscles at the end of your urethra. However, because of weak pelvic floor muscles, the sphincter (a ringlike muscle that contracts and closes body openings or passages) becomes weak and the leak happens. The severity of SUI quantifies as follows:

Grade 1: Leak happens on sudden forceful activities like sneezing, laughing, or coughing.

Grade 2: Leak happens with less strenuous activities like standing up, walking, or bending over.

Grade 3: Leak happens even while you are lying down. The leaks can be restricted to a few drops or may wet your clothes.

5. How to find out if you have SUI?

You will have to meet a gynaecologist and/or a urologist and undergo certain examinations and tests to diagnose if you are suffering from SUI.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.