Updated 20 February 2019

Could you be at risk of urinary incontinence?

These are the risk factors that could position you as a candidate for urinary incontinence.

Oprah once said that when we know better we do better. The American TV show host wasn't talking about urinary incontinence, but her wisdom applies here too. Knowing what the risk factors for urinary incontinence are could help to prevent the condition from developing, or at the very least assist in helping you be prepared.

These are the main risk factors that could make you more prone to urinary incontinence:

1. Pregnancy

The risk for urinary incontinence is greater after your first pregnancy. The stretching of your pelvic ligaments and muscles can cause them to weaken.

Stress incontinence, according to the Renown Medical Group, "happens when physical movement or activity, such as coughing, sneezing, running or lifting heavy objects, puts stress on your bladder," said Lavanya Namballa, a medical doctor of internal medicine at Renown Medical Group. "Injury during childbirth is the most common cause of damage leading to stress incontinence."

In fact, women who have had two or more vaginal deliveries are at an even higher risk, according to Dr Namballa. Clinical research also indicates that women who had vaginal deliveries are more likely to experience incontinence than those who have had C-sections.

2. Gender

Statistics from the National Center for Biotechnology Information say that women are more inclined to developing urinary incontinence than men. 

3. Old age

The National Institute on Aging says that the elderly are more susceptible to having weaker bladder muscles, due to normal ageing coupled with bad habits.

4. Pelvic radiation, trauma and surgery

Certain medical procedures could have adverse effects on your bladder. The National Center for Biotechnology Information explains how pelvic radiation can affect your bladder. Pelvic radiation is a procedure used to treat pelvic tumours.

According to Health24, the pelvic floor muscles are also more at risk of becoming weaker after a hysterectomy, which is the removal of the womb. Women who have had womb removal surgery are therefore more at risk for urinary incontinence. 

5. Stroke

According to the Stroke Foundation, incontinence is a common occurrence after suffering a stroke. During a stroke the connection from the brain to your bladder can get disrupted, which may then lead to involuntary bladder leakage.

6. TB of the urinary tract

This condition causes inflammation of the female or male genitals. In females, this includes the reproductive system as well as the entire urinary tract, which means the bladder may be damaged. According to the Clinical Advisor, sufferers of this condition can experience frequent and painful urination. In addition to this, they explain that even though this condition is on the rise, it is difficult to diagnose, and late diagnoses can lead to significant renal damage. 

7. Obesity

Being overweight places strain on the pelvic floor, and the weakened muscles can cause bladder function to deteriorate and incontinence to develop. According to a Health24 article, you are three times more at risk of developing urinary incontinence if you are excessively overweight.

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

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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