What is Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI)?

Female Urinary Tract
Female Urinary Tract
Medical Illustration Copyright © 2015 Nucleus Medical Media, All rights reserved

Male Urinary Tract
Male Urinary Tract
Medical Illustration Copyright © 2015 Nucleus Medical Media, All rights reserved

Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) is when urine leaks out with sudden pressure on the bladder and urethra, causing the sphincter muscles to open briefly. With mild SUI, pressure may be from sudden forceful activities, like exercise, sneezing, laughing or coughing. If your SUI is more severe, you may also leak with less forceful activities like standing up, walking or bending over. Urinary "accidents" like this can range from a few drops of urine to enough to soak through your clothes. 

SUI is a very common bladder problem for women. It happens less often in men.

Another common bladder problem is called Overactive Bladder (OAB), or Urgency Urinary Incontinence (UUI). People with OAB have an urgent, "gotta go" feeling that they can't control. Some people with OAB leak urine when they feel that urge. The difference between SUI and OAB is anatomical. SUI is a urethral problem while OAB is a bladder problem. With SUI, the urethra cannot stop the sudden increase in pressure. With OAB, the bladder spasms and squeezes uncontrollably. To learn more about OAB, visit our OAB web page.

Many people with SUI also have OAB. When both types of urinary incontinence are happening, it is called "Mixed Incontinence."

Key SUI Statistics

About 1 in 3 women suffer from SUI at some point in their lives. Urinary incontinence increases with age. Over half of women with SUI also have OAB.

  • About one-third (1 out of 3) of women age 60 find that they sometimes leak urine. 
  • About half (1 out of 2) of women age 65 and above find that they sometimes leak urine.

Men with urine leakage have overactive bladder (OAB) more often than SUI. For men who have SUI, it is likely due to prostate cancer surgery, pelvic nerve injury or damage.

What Happens Normally?

The urinary tract includes two kidneys, two ureters, a bladder, aurethra and a sphincter. The bladder is secured in place by fascia in the pelvic floor. This system works together to store and remove waste, specifically urine, from our bodies.

  • The kidneys make urine. The kidneys clean our blood and remove waste and excess water (urine). They also serve as our body's filter to control electrolytes, fluid balance, pH and blood pressure. Urine drains down through thin tubes called ureters into the bladder.
  • The ureters move urine from the kidneys to the bladder. 
  • The bladder is a balloon-like organ. It stores urine. The bladder muscles contract (squeeze) when we're ready to release urine.
  • The urethra is a tube at the bottom of the bladder where urine exits the body. It has sphincter muscles to keep the urethra closed and prevent urine from leaking out, until you're ready to release urine. The sphincter muscle relaxes when the bladder contracts and urination occurs. 
  • The pelvic floor includes a sling (like a hammock) of muscles and fascia that supports the bladder, rectum and uterus.