Laughter and giggle incontinence: why you pee while laughing

Laughter is regularly considered a common factor in causing urine leakage, so much as to lend itself to the expression “wetting myself laughing”.  However, while many are aware of laughter’s contribution to stress incontinence, less is known about the condition “giggle incontinence”, which mainly affects children.
Although the symptoms of laughter-induced stress incontinence and giggle incontinence are alike, the causes are thought to be different. Read our guide to help you differentiate between the two, and shed some light on why you might be “peeing your pants laughing”.  

Why do I pee when I laugh? Stress incontinence

Stress incontinence describes a condition that causes urine to leak when you laugh, sneeze, cough, or perform any other activities that put pressure on the bladder. It’s the most common type of urinary incontinence among women, affecting around 15%.
Stress incontinence happens when support for the urinary tract and bladder aren’t working properly, usually due to weakened pelvic floor or urethral sphincter muscles. Find out more about stress incontinence here. 

What is giggle incontinence?

“Giggle incontinence” refers to bladder leakage provoked by a fit of laughter. Leakage usually occurs in large amounts, and often results in the complete emptying of the bladder. With giggle incontinence, laughter causes the detrusor muscle (found in the wall of the bladder) to contract when it shouldn’t, resulting in involuntary urination.

Who does giggle incontinence affect?

Giggle incontinence is typically seen in children and is more common in girls than in boys, particularly in girls aged between 7 and 14. The severity of the condition depends on the individual, with some children experiencing only a partial emptying of the bladder, while others’ empty completely. Giggle incontinence usually improves with age, although some cases do continue into adulthood.

What causes giggle incontinence?

It is thought to be related to dysfunctional voiding, when the two sets of bladder muscles function incorrectly, leading to a range of bladder problems which may include retention issues and urinary tract infections.  Whilst the causes of giggle incontinence are unclear, some experts think laughter might stimulate contractions in children who are already susceptible to detrusor instability. 
Others suggest giggle incontinence is more likely to be found in children with a convulsive disorder, or children who have experienced neurological  or nerve damage.

Managing laughter and incontinence

Most children tend to grow out of giggle incontinence . In the meantime, however, loss of bladder control can be very embarrassing and distressing for a child. As a parent, there are steps you can take to make things easier for your child, and help them to manage an unstable bladder:
1. Ease their anxiety. Help reduce your child’s concerns by reassuring them that accidents are normal and aren’t their fault.
2. Pre-empt accidents. Encourage your child to go to the toilet before taking part in activities which might induce giggling incontinence, such as sporting events and seeing friends.
3. Manage fluid intake. While it’s important for your child to drink at least 6-8 glasses of water every day, certain beverages should be avoided as they aggravate the bladder. These include caffeine, hot chocolate and fizzy drinks. Milk should be drunk in moderation. 
If these steps aren’t effective, speak to your child’s doctor. They may recommend a non-drug treatment called “biofeedback”, which helps to increase a child’s awareness of their urinary muscles, and teaches them to strengthen the right ones. 

Treating stress incontinence

Treatment for stress incontinence depends on its severity. In some cases, doctors may recommend losing weight and practising pelvic floor exercises  to strengthen the bladder. Monitoring your fluid intake and avoiding caffeine, smoking and alcohol may also help to reduce leakage. 
Understanding the link between laughing and incontinence  is the first step towards managing either your or your child’s condition. To learn about other types of urinary incontinence, visit our articles on urgency and frequency  for more information. Or if you’re suffering from bladder leakage, shop our range for products to protect from mild to moderate incontinence.