What is bladder leakage?

Did you know that one in four women experience some degree of bladder leakage at some point in their lives? A weak bladder and resulting incontinence is more common than you think. In fact it can affect anyone at any age, young or old, but women far more so than men.

Some women learn quickly to bring bladder leakage under control by sitting down or crossing their legs tightly. While for others, incontinence may be a sudden urge to go to the toilet, followed by significant leakage.

Understanding the type of bladder leakage (or urinary incontinence) you have, what causes a weak bladder and how to fix, or at the very least, manage it, should be a priority so that your lifestyle is impacted as minimally as possible.

A quick look at the different types of incontinence

There are 3 main types of incontinence including:

  • Stress incontinence is physical stress or pressure on your internal organs such as a cough, a sneeze or even a laugh when your bladder is full.
  • Urge incontinence is the inability to hold on for more than a few minutes once you have a sudden overwhelming need to urinate.
  • Overflow incontinence is characterised by leaking with no warning or urge to urinate. 

Having a weak bladder is something that you shouldn’t feel embarrassed about. It’s very manageable and very common with around 4% of all adults and 25% of all women over 40 having suffered from some kind of incontinence.

If your bladder leakage is light, it’s quite simple to manage with the use of incontinence products like the Depend® range of guards and underwear specifically designed for urinary incontinence. You can also be prepared for mishaps by keeping a change of clothes and underwear handy just in case.

What causes a bladder leakage?

This is the old ‘How long is a piece of string?’ question. There’s lots of potential causes of a weak bladder and subsequent bladder leakage. They can range from weakened pelvic muscles from childbirth, to bladder or prostate cancer.

Nine times out of ten though, your bladder leaks purely and simply because your pelvic floor muscles have weakened over time because of pregnancy, childbirth and the onset of menopause.

Here are some of the other things that can lead to bladder leakage:

  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Menopause
  • Diabetes
  • Age
  • Obstructions in urinary tract (eg tumours)
  • UTIs (urinary tract infections)
  • Bladder infection
  • Kidney infections
  • Prolapse
  • Bladder cancer and prostate cancer
  • Bladder and kidney stones
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Nervous system afflictions including: Spinal cord injury, Stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Dementia, Multiple Sclerosis
  • Nerve damage or trauma caused by surgery or certain therapies
  • Spinal injury
  • Trauma to the pelvis (eg car accident)
  • Obesity

A note for men

The primary reason for incontinence in men is due to an enlarged prostate. You should see your doctor as soon as possible to ensure your symptoms aren’t masking something more serious.

How do I stop bladder leakage?

As you can see from the long list above, there are many things that can cause a weak bladder and subsequently lead to bladder leakage. Consequently, there are quite a few options to consider depending on the type of incontinence you have.

The first thing to remember is that you’re not alone and that this common condition, is easily managed and can, in some cases, may be cured altogether.

However, if you find the following methods aren’t helping, there may be another underlying medical problem affecting your particular instance of bladder leakage. Have a chat with your doctor if you’re concerned about your bladder leakage.

Here are some solutions that you may find can help a weak bladder.

Incontinence products

One of the simplest ways to manage incontinence whether temporary or ongoing, is to use the Depend® or Poise® range of incontinence products. It doesn’t matter if your bladder leakage is light or quite heavy, Poise® and Depend® products have you covered with everything from liners to underwear.

Lifestyle changes

  • Make it easy to get to the toilet. This should be quite obvious really. Make sure there are no obstacles preventing you from getting to the toilet quickly. If mobility is an issue, consider in-home adaptations like handrails or a raised seat in your toilet, and a commode in the bedroom is also a good idea.
  • Cut out or reduce your caffeine intake. Coffee, tea, cola, and some painkillers all contain caffeine, which has a diuretic effect (makes you wee more often). Caffeine itself may also directly stimulate the bladder making urgency symptoms worse. Try going a while without caffeine and see if your condition improves. If it does, it doesn’t mean the end of your morning coffee or your afternoon cuppa, it just means you’ll know to stay handy to a toilet when you have a drink.
  • Alcohol. Some people are affected by alcohol in the same way that others are affected by caffeine. Again, try going a while without an alcoholic drink and see if your incontinence improves.
  • Drink normal quantities of fluids. Drinking less may seem like a good idea, but in reality it actually makes your symptoms worse. That’s because your urine becomes more concentrated, which can irritate the bladder muscle. Aim to drink about two litres of fluid per day — about 6-8 cups, and more in hot conditions.
  • Go to the toilet only when you need to. Don’t go to the toilet more often than you need to. You may think it’s a good idea to go often so as not to be ‘caught short,’ but all this does is promote an overactive bladder and make your symptoms worse in the long run. It also means your bladder becomes used to holding less urine making it even more sensitive and overactive at times when you need to hold on a bit longer.
  • Lose weight. If you’re overweight, there is additional strain your pelvic floor muscles, so losing some weight can improve your symptoms.
  • Check your medications. If you’re taking medications like antihistamines, tricyclics (antidepressants), or blood pressure tablets, they can interfere with muscle contraction in the bladder and urethral sphincter, making incontinence even worse. Ask your doctor about bladder-friendly alternatives.

Kegel exercises

Kegel exercises (pelvic floor exercises) are the main treatment for stress incontinence. These exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles that support the bladder, uterus (womb) and rectum. Pelvic floor exercises also help if you are doing bladder training.

Kegels are a mainstay of incontinence therapy. Women with stress incontinence who consistently do Kegel exercises experience a 70% improvement in symptoms, and experts believe building these muscles may also help with urge incontinence. Kegels work by thickening the muscles that hold your bladder, urethra and other organs in place.

If your just starting out try contracting your pelvic-floor muscles for five seconds, and then relax them for five seconds, repeat this five times, 10 to 20 times a day.

Bladder training

For those with urge incontinence, bladder training may help. With this form of behaviour therapy, you make yourself wait when you feel the urge to urinate, gradually increasing the intervals between bathroom trips. It’s a good idea to keep a bladder diary to keep track of your progress.

Vaginal pessary

This is a flexible silicone ring inserted into your vagina where it pushes up on the vaginal wall and urethra to help support the bladder and uterus. A doctor or nurse can fit one for you, but you’ll need regular check ups to make sure it doesn't irritate your vagina.

Electrical stimulation

This painless process involves delivering gentle volts of electricity, through a vaginal probe to activate and strengthen pelvic-floor muscles. Sometimes, (and used only for urge incontinence), a device is implanted under the skin of the upper buttock to stimulate the sacral nerve, which connects to the bladder and pelvic floor.


If things don’t improve with bladder training, there are some medications called antimuscarinics (also called anticholinergics) which your doctor may recommend.

The drugs work by blocking certain nerve impulses to the bladder, which in turn relaxes the bladder muscle, thereby increasing the bladder’s capacity.

It works well if you take the medication in combination with the bladder training. A common plan is to try a course of medication for a month or so. If they help, you may be advised to continue for around six months and then stop the medication altogether to see how symptoms are without the medication.

By combining a course of medication with bladder training, the long-term outlook may be better and symptoms may be less likely to return when you stop the medication.

Kimberly-Clark Australia makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Other urinary incontinence causes