Sometimes when you cough it can make you leak a bit of urine accidentally. This is known as stress incontinence. We are going to explore why stress incontinence can occur and what you can do about it.

Your bladder and bowel sit within your pelvis. The pelvic floor muscles line your pelvis and stretch from your pubic bone at the front to your tailbone at the back. The outlets for your bladder and bowel pass through these muscles. The pelvic floor muscles support your pelvic organs and assist bladder and bowel control, i.e. they help prevent leakage of urine from the bladder and wind or faeces from the bowel.

Sometimes your pelvic floor muscles can become weak. This can happen when they are put under prolonged or repetitive pressure for example chronic coughing, heavy lifting, straining to pass bowel motions (constipation), pregnancy and childbirth. Weak pelvic floor muscles don’t do their job as well as they should, and the result can be stress incontinence. Having a chronic lung condition, which causes a lot of coughing, can weaken the pelvic floor muscles and result in stress incontinence.

Stress incontinence is more common in women but can also affect men. The good news is you don’t have to suffer in silence.

Pelvic floor muscles can be strengthened like any other muscle in the body. It can be a bit tricky to learn, because we can’t see our pelvic floor muscles working, but, with practice we can feel them.

To locate your pelvic floor muscles, imagine that you are trying to stop yourself passing urine or wind. That sensation of a gentle lift is your pelvic floor muscles contracting. Hold for a moment, then let go. You should feel the muscles relax. Don’t squeeze your buttocks together, pull in your tummy or hold your breath when doing this exercise.

To begin with, you may only be able to manage a couple of contractions, but as the muscles get stronger you will be able to progress. Work towards doing five to ten quick squeezes followed by ten “holds” of five seconds.

Aim to practice these pelvic floor exercises several times per day. At first it might be quite difficult but with practice it should get easier. Always remember to contract your pelvic floor muscles every time you cough, sneeze or lift anything heavy – squeeze before you sneeze!

If you have been taught pelvic floor exercises in the past, it is important that you continue doing them, they should be a lifelong habit. If you haven’t been taught pelvic floor exercises before or feel you need more help with these exercises, ask your GP or health professional to refer you to a continence service. Alternatively, you can go directly to see a private pelvic health physiotherapist, you don’t need a referral.

This is a useful website for further information:

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