What is Stress Incontinence? (Or ‘Stress Urinary Incontinence’)

Stress , or ‘stress urinary incontinence’ (SUI), describes a condition that causes urine to leak when you laugh, sneeze, cough, stand up, lift a heavy object or during other types of activity that require physical effort. It is the most common form of urinary incontinence among women. 

Stress incontinence can result from lifestyle choices, medical complications, pregnancy/giving birth and obesity. For those affected, stress incontinence can have a disruptive effect on work, social life, relationships and sex life. If you’d like to understand urinary incontinence in adults in more detail and the different types of incontinence, our articles can guide you. 

Read on to learn why stress incontinence occurs, what causes it and how it can be treated by you as an individual, looking to take back control. You can use our durable range of products wherever you wish. TENA is here to help.

Why does stress incontinence occur?

Stress urinary occurs when the important support for the urinary tract and bladder is not functioning properly. This condition can be caused by weakness in the ligaments and , or impaired functionality of muscles that serve to close the tube connecting the bladder to the outside (urethra).

As the bladder fills with urine, it expands. In a fully functioning urethra, valve-like muscles stay shut as this happens. This prevents urine leakage occurring until such a time as we can reach a bathroom and relieve ourselves. However, as these muscles weaken, any activity that exerts force on the abdominal and pelvic muscles can apply pressure to the bladder, causing involuntary urine leakage. This force is a type of physical ‘stress’ to the bladder and is why this type of incontinence is called ‘stress urinary incontinence’.

What causes pelvic floor muscles to lose strength?

For women, the most common reason strength is lost in the in and urinary sphincter is childbirth. During delivery, women may suffer from tissue or nerve damage to their pelvic floor. Stress directly related to this damage may start soon after childbirth, however in some cases it may take years to occur.

For men, the most common scenario that causes stress incontinence is after a prostatectomy – partial removal of the gland as a part of treatment for an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer. Radiotherapy for prostate cancer can cause temporary stress urinary incontinence.

Are there other factors that can exacerbate stress incontinence?

Research suggests that stress could be made worse by any of the following 

  • Illnesses that cause chronic coughing or sneezing

  • Obesity

  • Smoking

  • Not doing pelvic floor training

  • Lifting heavy objects

  • Pregnancy

  • Repeated heavy lifting that puts extra pressure on the

What are some risk factors of developing stress urinary incontinence?


The can also become weaker in women as a result of changes to muscle tone and structure after menopause.

Chronic constipation

Chronic constipation involving long periods spent sitting and straining to empty the bowel puts regular, unnecessary pressure on the pelvic floor muscles that can lead to stress urinary .

Are there any other physical complications?

Stress can also cause physical side effects including skin irritation or rashes due to increased contact between skin and drops of urine. As a result, it becomes important to keep skin dry, clean, properly moisturised and protected. To help you achieve this, TENA has developed a range of skincare products that help prevent skin issues and maintain skin health.

Another possible complication that stress incontinence can cause is emotional distress[1]. It can have an impact on day-to-day activities, and you may feel embarrassed by the condition. However, there is nothing to be embarrassed about as around 7 million people in the UK[2], experience some form of urinary incontinence. 

Here at TENA, we believe that incontinence shouldn’t get in the way of you enjoying life and our range of incontinence products for both men and women, will help you do just that. If your incontinence is affecting your mental health, you should seek advice from a mental health practitioner or you may benefit from joining a support group. To find other options which may be helpful, read our article on mental health and incontinence

Stress urinary incontinence treatment

In some cases, physicians recommend programs of weight loss and pelvic floor exercise. These have been used to successfully treat stress . When it comes to treating the symptoms of stress incontinence such as urine leakage and dripping, TENA offers a wide range of products that deal with these discreetly and effectively. Our pads, pants and other incontinence products are designed to keep you dry and odour-free. This way, you can continue to enjoy an active lifestyle even if you are affected by stress incontinence. 

For men affected by stress urinary incontinence, our specially created range offers effective, discreet solutions to provide reassurance during your journey to regaining control. Stress urinary incontinence after treatment for cancer often does not last long and as the bladder recovers, full control will return. 

Data from one centre showed that over 90 per cent of patients regain full control within a year. For men with longer-term stress urinary incontinence, the first step is physiotherapy, such as pelvic floor exercises, and behavioural approaches. If these approaches are not successful, there are two surgical options: the male sling and the artificial urinary sphincter. Your healthcare practitioner will provide more information about these options and discuss whether they are right for you.

Pelvic floor exercises for stress incontinence

Pelvic floor exercises are great for managing stress incontinence as they can help ease the symptoms of stress incontinence. Did you know that as little as five minutes of pelvic floor exercises a day can significantly reduce incontinence- or even make it go away? It’s never too late to get started! If you’re interested in learning about the different types of pelvic floor exercises to help you manage your , our helpful articles will help you navigate the ins and outs. 

What other exercises for stress incontinence are helpful? 

There are many forms of exercise that can be helpful, when it comes to managing stress incontinence. From yoga for incontinence to Pilates, there is something to help you take control of your body. For further support take a look at our guide on exercising with incontinence, for a list of tips and tricks to get your heart pumping and the endorphins flowing.

We hope you found this article on stress urinary incontinence helpful and insightful. For more advice, take a look at our articles on a range of topics from frequent urination to coping with night-time incontinence

And please keep in mind: with the right products, you can have so much more control of your everyday life, enabling you to be the person you’ve always been.