Updated 31 January 2018

Facts on bladder leaks

You sneeze, or cough, or laugh hysterically at someone's very funny joke – and the next thing you're running for the loo.

You sneeze, or cough, or laugh hysterically at someone's very funny joke – and the next thing you're running for the loo. This is a very common condition and is generally referred to as bladder weakness. Here's what you need to know about it.

Bladder weakness is an umbrella term for a number of conditions that all result in involuntary leakage of urine as the primary symptom.

4 different types of incontinence

1. Stress or effort incontinence, where the pelvic floor muscles are not strong enough to prevent urine leakage during coughing, sneezing or jumping, for example.

2. Urge incontinence or overactive bladder syndrome (OAB) where there is urine leakage for no apparent reason, while suddenly feeling the need or urge to urinate.

3. Overflow incontinence, where people cannot stop their bladders from dribbling after they have passed urine.

4. Nocturia, where sufferers typically need to wake twice or more often to urinate at night.

Interesting facts on bladder weakness

  • Bladder weakness is widespread and affects women and men of all ages, but is twice as prevalent in women.
  • Bladder weakness becomes more prevalent with age in men.
  • On average, bladder weakness affects one in five women, and one in ten men.
  • Ten to 60 percent of women report bladder weakness at some stage in their lives, while 40 percent of women have experienced it related to pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Twenty-five percent of women aged 35 or older have experienced bladder weakness problems, while it affects 15 percent of women older than 40 regularly or daily.
  • Obesity is the single most modifiable risk factor when it comes to managing bladder weakness. Excess body weight puts strain on the pelvic floor. Maintaining a healthy weight through good eating habits and regular physical exercise can result in improved bladder control.
  • Exercise and dietary changes are a vital part of managing bladder weakness properly, and exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor, where indicated, result in a marked improvement of symptoms.
  • Under-hydration is as much of a factor as over-hydration in managing bladder weakness. Incontinence experts recommend 30ml of fluid per kilogram of body weight as a healthy fluid intake.
  • Eating a healthy diet can also contribute to better bladder health. Common bladder irritants include alcohol, caffeine, dairy products, sugar, sweeteners, corn syrup, honey, citrus fruits, tomato-based foods and spicy foods.
  • Treatment depends on what is causing the problem. Behavioural training, lifestyle changes, surgery, medication, physiotherapy and medical devices may all be used separately or in combination to treat symptoms.
  • Daily management of symptoms can be supported by the use of purpose-designed bladder weakness products, as sanitary towel and other home-devised methods don’t provide adequate leak protection, skin protection and odour control.

(Press release from TENA, a division of Nampak products, October 2012)


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Incontinence Expert

Dr Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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