What is a Leaky Bladder?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
A cutaway of a female body showing the bladder in dark pink.
A cutaway of a female body showing the bladder in dark pink.

The term “leaky bladder” describes periodic episodes of incontinence, where a person notices some leakage of urine after urinating or during particular activities. This is an extremely common problem, especially among women, and there are a number of treatments available. A doctor will need to examine the patient and conduct an interview to find out more about the origins of the leaky bladder in order to provide the best possible treatments. Seeking treatment is advisable, because sometimes urinary incontinence can be a sign of a serious underlying medical problem like a tumor or nerve damage.

The human urinary tract, including the bladder in pink at the bottom.
The human urinary tract, including the bladder in pink at the bottom.

Some common forms of leaky bladder include stress incontinence and temporary incontinence. Stress incontinence is where people leak urine under physical stress like coughing, sneezing, or engaging in vigorous activity. Temporary incontinence is caused by issues like a urinary tract infection or pregnancy, when the fetus puts pressure on the bladder. Other causes of incontinence can include nerve damage making it difficult to control the bladder, muscle weakness, or hormone imbalances. Women most commonly notice leaky bladder during and after pregnancy and when they enter menopause.

Sneezing may cause stress incontinence.
Sneezing may cause stress incontinence.

Accidental urination with a leaky bladder can happen at any time, and sometimes patients don't feel it. They may notice wet underwear or a strong smell when they use the bathroom. Some temporary measures to address a leaky bladder can include wearing incontinence pads to absorb urine, as well as urinating on a schedule to try to keep the bladder as empty as possible.

Aging tends to cause problems with bladder leakage for both men and women.
Aging tends to cause problems with bladder leakage for both men and women.

Medications are available to treat this condition, ranging from antibiotics to resolve an infection to drugs that limit bladder spasms. Women with weak muscles may need to wear a pessary, a device the doctor can insert into the vagina to support and take pressure off the bladder, to prevent leaks. Surgery can be another option, as can techniques like electrical nerve stimulation, where a device sends signals to misfiring nerves to control their activity.

Patients are sometimes reluctant to discuss a leaky bladder with a doctor because they feel awkward or think no treatment will be available. Many people associate urinary incontinence with natural aging and thus don't believe there is anything a doctor can do. Although common, incontinence is not natural, and a doctor can screen a patient for potential causes or refer the patient to a urologist for a more in-depth evaluation. Treating a leaky bladder can resolve a serious medical condition, in addition to helping the patient feel more comfortable and confident.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • A cutaway of a female body showing the bladder in dark pink.
      By: kocakayaali
      A cutaway of a female body showing the bladder in dark pink.
    • The human urinary tract, including the bladder in pink at the bottom.
      By: 3drenderings
      The human urinary tract, including the bladder in pink at the bottom.
    • Sneezing may cause stress incontinence.
      By: Adam Gregor
      Sneezing may cause stress incontinence.
    • Aging tends to cause problems with bladder leakage for both men and women.
      By: Budimir Jevtic
      Aging tends to cause problems with bladder leakage for both men and women.