Causes of Urinary & Bladder Incontinence | Canadian Continence Foundation
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Causes of Urinary Incontinence

Weakening of the Pelvic Floor Muscles and Urethral Sphincter

Weakening of the pelvic floor muscles may occur as a result of trauma of vaginal childbirth, disease process affecting the brain and spinal cord such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes mellitus and stroke; birth defects, injuries from an accident usually with fracture of the pelvic bones, or a consequence of medications or after surgery such as removal of the prostate gland.

Menopause and Old Age

Changes which occur with the menopause in women and natural aging process in the urinary bladder, urethra and pelvic floor muscles and sphincters may contribute to incontinence by interfering with the normal process of urination. For example, the natural enlargement of the prostate gland as men age or the presence of a prolapsed vagina or uterus that is common in old women may cause obstruction or abnormal descent of the urethra. The progressive decrease of estrogen after the menopause and aging which women experience, CAN lead to weakness of the pelvic floor muscles and sphincters.

It is important to note here that having incontinence in old age is NOT normal and needs consultation with a health care provider.


Incontinence tends to run in families and there is a genetic component involved in the weakness of the pelvic floor muscles and urethral sphincter.


Obesity and overweight increase the risk of having incontinence because the accumulation of fat increases the abdominal pressure. This overcomes the ability of the urethral sphincter to keep the urethra closed during activities that increase the abdominal pressure like walking, lifting, coughing, sneezing and sports.

Chest Infections and Constipation

Chest infections such as bronchitis, flu or common cold and chronic constipation increase the risk of incontinence because repeated coughing and straining significantly increases the abdominal pressure.

Urinary Tract infections

This is a common cause of incontinence. Infection in the urinary bladder (Urinary Tract infections/cystitis) increases the sensitivity of the bladder muscle and its liability to contract inappropriately causing incontinence.

Smoking and Alcohol

Smoking increases the risk of chest infections and coughing. Nicotine and excessive alcohol have a stimulant effect on the bladder muscle that leads to inappropriate contractions causing incontinence.

Other Causes

Since there are sometimes no obvious organic cause to explain urinary incontinence as well as many possible causes of incontinence, it should be diagnosed by a health care provider in order to determine the cause and to ensure that this is not a symptom of another problem, and that the correct treatment options can be discussed and selected.

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