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What is urinary incontinence (bladder leakage)?

Bladder leakage, also known as urinary incontinence, is the loss of bladder control for involuntary loss of urine. In fact, it’s very likely that you or someone you know—your mother, sister, or best friend—is quietly coping with this potentially embarrassing problem. If you think you’re experiencing symptoms of incontinence, we may be able to help you reclaim your life.

What causes it?

Stress urinary incontinence occurs when weakened pelvic muscles and tissue result in the bladder and urethra (the canal that carries urine from the bladder) relaxing from their normal positions. As a result, sudden abdominal pressure from coughing, sneezing, laughing or simple lifting can cause accidental loss of urine. The cause may be a single factor or a combination of things. For effective diagnosis and treatment, a doctor must determine the cause. Common causes include:1,2

  • Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Vaginal delivery
  • Obesity/BMI
  • Hysterectomy
  • Physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Family history
  • Diet
  • Other medical conditions


1 in 3 women experience bladder leakage in their lifetime.3

In a clinical study of 131 women, more than 40% reported that urinary incontinence affected their work or other activities.4

Less than 50% of women with urinary incontinence have discussed their symptoms with a health care provider.5

More than 1 million women have received AMS slings to treat bladder leakage.6

What are the symptoms?

There are three basic types of urinary incontinence, and proper diagnosis is important for treatment success. Read about the different types, take this symptom quiz, and talk to your doctor about your responses to determine which type you may be experiencing.

Stress incontinence: Leaking urine during physical activity, like laughing, lifting, exercising, coughing, or sneezing.

Urge incontinence: Experiencing a sudden, intense need to urinate--even if you just went--but being unable to hold it long enough to reach a bathroom.

Mixed incontinence: A combination of stress and urge incontinence.

Options to Try Today

There are many options for handling urinary incontinence, including a few that don’t require a physician’s assistance. If you’re just starting to explore treatment options, you may want to try these first.

Protective Undergarments

Products such as pads, undergarment liners, and absorbent underwear are worn to absorb leaked urine.3


Behavior Therapies

Decreasing fluid intake and/or scheduling voiding (for those who can recognize bladder fullness) can help control bladder and sphincter muscles.

Pelvic Muscle Exercises

Kegel exercises are used to strengthen the weak muscles surrounding the bladder.

Options That Require a Doctor’s Help

Restoring continence, rather than simply managing it, requires a more substantial treatment. Taking the severity of your condition into account, you and your doctor can work together on a treatment plan. It’s important that you understand all the options available, and that you share your thoughts and concerns with your doctor.

Physical Therapy

A physician may prescribe specialized physical therapy.


External Devices

A pessary is a device that’s inserted into the vagina to apply pressure and help reposition the urethra, and may help prevent leakage.


Bulking Injections

A material is injected to bulk up the area surrounding the urethra so it can close more tightly.


Medication can help treat urge incontinence and the urge component of mixed incontinence; however, there are currently no medicines available to treat stress incontinence.7



There are multiple surgical options to treat stress urinary incontinence. Some use the patient’s own tissue, while others use a medical implant, such as a sling. A sling functions much like a hammock, supporting your urethra and helping it stay closed.8 It’s made of a soft mesh, which has been used to treat incontinence since 1968 and has been used in millions of patients worldwide.9. 10

See what AMS can do for you.

We offer several slings designed to treat urinary incontinence. Talk to your doctor about finding the right one for you.

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Learn more about this condition

Check out our dedicated urinary incontinence website for additional information, including frequently asked questions, videos, and more.


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1. Liou LS, Zieve D. Stress incontinence. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia’s Website. Available at: Accessed January 7, 2012.

2. Reynolds WS, Dmochowski RR, Penson DF. Epidemiology of stress urinary incontinence in women. Curr Urol Rep. 2011; 12:370–376.

3. American Urological Association Foundation, Inc. 2011. Frequently Asked Questions About Stress Urinary Incontinence. Retrieved from

4. Margalith I, Gillon G, Gordon D. Urinary incontinence in women under 65: quality of life, stress related to incontinence and patterns of seeking health care. Quality of life research Oct 2004 v. 13(8) pp. 1381-90.

5. Kinchen KS, Burgio K, Diokno AC, Fultz NH, Bump R, Obenchain R. Factors associated with women’s decisions to seek treatment for urinary incontinence. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2003;12(7):687-98.

6. Data on file.

7. Holroyd-Leduc JM, Straus SE. Management of urinary incontinence in women: clinical applications. JAMA. 2004 Feb 25;291(8):996-9.

8. Mayo Clinic Staff. Urinary incontinence. Treatment and Drugs. Mayo Clinic’s Website. Available at: Accessed January 7, 2012.

9. Moir, JC. The gauze-hammock operation. J Obstet Gynecol Br Common 1968;75(1):1-9.

10. Data on file.