Urinary Incontinence Can Happen To Anyone - Here's What To Know About The Condition

If you've ever laughed so hard that a bit of pee came out, that's normal if it happens every once in a blue moon. Sometimes jokes, or life, are just too funny, and you can't help it. However, if you find that you're peeing every time you sneeze or cough, or you feel like you're constantly wearing extra pads and bringing extra underwear "just in case" you pee, that isn't quite as normal. Well, it's common, but it's potentially due to a medical condition called urinary incontinence.

As the Mayo Clinic reported, urinary incontinence (UI) is essentially "the loss of bladder control." As stated before, it isn't rare. The Urology Care Foundation reported that "a quarter to a third of men and women in the U.S. suffer from urinary incontinence." They estimate that this means 33 million Americans experience overactive bladder (OAB) or other forms of urinary incontinence. However, knowing that other people deal with the same thing as you doesn't make it any less mortifying. Leaking urine or having to urgently run to the bathroom to pee constantly isn't something you really want to scream to the world. But if it sounds like you're dealing with urinary incontinence or these symptoms, here are some more things to know about the condition.

You pee when you sneeze or laugh

If you're someone that pees when they sneeze or cough, you could have stress urinary incontinence. The "stress" means you're putting physical pressure on your bladder by doing something active like the above in addition to laughing or physical activity. As the Mayo Clinic wrote, this type of urinary incontinence can be caused by pregnancy because of changes within the body and the fact that the fetus could be putting physical pressure on you. Men who have prostate gland issues can also develop stress incontinence, however, women are more likely to get it due to how their bodies are. There's also the fact that they can get pregnant or go through menopause, which are two things that can lead to stress incontinence.

The Urology Care Foundation notes that the reason stress incontinence occurs at all is due to weak pelvic floor muscles. We'll touch more on pelvic floor muscles in a bit, but basically, if these muscles become over-stretched, they can no longer control your bladder from leaking urine when pressure is applied.

You can't make it to the toilet

There are other types of urinary incontinence, as stated before. The Mayo Clinic noted that overflow incontinence is just as it sounds. Your bladder leaks or "dribbles" urine even after you've finished or gone to the bathroom. The bladder doesn't quite get everything out when you use the bathroom, which leads to this leakage.

Farzeen Firoozi, MD, the director of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told SELF that urge incontinence (aka an overactive bladder), another type of UI, is literally just having to pee all the time even if you have nothing in your tank. "The bladder almost develops a brain of its own, and it signals itself to contract," Dr. Firoozi said. This type of incontinence is often associated with infections, bladder stones, damage to your nerves, or neurological issues. The Urology Care Foundation noted that overactive bladder or urge incontinence is more widely evenly amongst genders, with it impacting around 30% of men and 40% of women.

Your pelvic floor might be a reason for urinary incontinence

As stated above, stress incontinence can be caused by weak pelvic floor muscles. What is a pelvic floor? According to SELF, the pelvic floor is a grouping of "hammock-like muscles" that keep all of your organs in that area in place. These organs include the bladder, urethra, reproductive organs, and more. This is why it's so vital that your pelvic floor is strong and works well. Dr. Firoozi told SELF that if your pelvic floor muscles are too tight or too weak, they can lead you to have urinary incontinence. Having a weak or dysfunctional pelvic floor can also include symptoms such as pain during sex, lower back pain, constipation, and other issues.

Again, as mentioned above, pregnancy and age cause a strain on or negatively impact your pelvic floor, which is more likely to cause pelvic floor issues. However, other things like injuries, trauma, health conditions, and overuse can also cause pelvic floor issues and stress incontinence.

You can have urinary incontinence from food or medicine

Temporary urinary incontinence is when your bladder isn't working properly, leading to leakage, but it's caused by something you're consuming in your life. The Mayo Clinic writes that food, alcohol, or caffeine can cause urinary incontinence. In fact, there's quite a long list of things that can involuntarily cause UI issues. This includes fizzy drinks, artificial sweeteners, and even chocolate. Plus, foods with high levels of spice or acid can be culprits too. Medication for heart and blood pressure, along with sedatives or muscle relaxers, can also make you feel like you have to pee more because they act as diuretics. Diuretics are types of medications that promote the overproduction of urine anyway, so it makes sense why alcohol or other types of beverages can be "diuretics" and cause you to pee more.

And, of course, don't forget that illnesses like urinary tract infections and constipation can lead to UI issues. UTIs are notorious for making you feel like you constantly have to pee, regardless of if you do or not. And when you strain too hard while trying to poop, you can really strain your pelvic floor muscles, too, causing UI. Everything's connected and not always in a fun way.

Other reasons are a bit more permanent or complex

Again, conditions such as pregnancy and age can make someone develop urinary incontinence. As The Urology Care Foundation wrote, people who've given birth have a higher risk of developing UI, and that number goes up with the more kids they have, regardless of how their babies are delivered (vaginally or c-section). And once you have the child, that doesn't mean the urinary incontinence goes away; they report that you're "more likely to have it afterward" if you developed it while pregnant too. When women go through menopause and experience less estrogen production, they can develop UI issues as well.

While urinary incontinence seems scary, there are treatments. As SELF noted, physical therapy can work wonders on your pelvic floor muscles. Even doing Kegel exercises on your own can strengthen your pelvic floor. "You should be aware and care for your pelvic floor like any other part of your body," Dr. Rachel Benjamin, DPT, a licensed physical therapist, told SELF. "We need to normalize conversations about pelvic health in order to promote a greater understanding and access to care."

If your UI isn't caused by weak pelvic floor muscles and it doesn't have to do with diet or medications, there are products and devices like pads or catheters specifically made to help people with UI, according to The Urology Care Foundation. If you fear you have urinary incontinence, talk to your doctor and figure out the best course of action for you.