Bladder control problems in women

Also known as urinary incontinence or urinary leakage

Bladder control problems (when you pee unexpectedly) are common in women. Many women don't seek treatment, but with help most women with urinary leakage can improve or overcome it.

Key facts

  1. In New Zealand, it is estimated that almost 200,000 women have urinary leakage at least twice a month.
  2. Bladder control problems are 4 times more common in women than men, with many women experiencing some degree of lost control over their urinary actions.
  3. Two-thirds of women who experience bladder control problems do not seek help as they see this as a normal female problem and think nothing can be done about it.
  4. However, 70% of women with bladder control problems can become dry or experience significant improvement with the right treatment.

young woman looking out a window

What causes bladder control problems in women?

Factors that contribute to bladder control problems include:

  • pregnancy and childbirth
  • constipation
  • medications, including prescribed medicines, over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements 
  • chronic cough
  • urinary infection (consult your GP)
  • diseases that affect your nervous system and muscular control
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • reduction in hormones after menopause (when your period stops).

What are the signs of bladder control problems?

The two types of incontinence most common in women are stress incontinence and urge incontinence. 

Stress incontinence
is the spontaneous, uncontrolled leakage of small amounts of urine with exertion such as coughing, sneezing, straining, lifting or playing sport (in the absence of any desire to go to the toilet).

Urge incontinence
causes a sudden, overwhelming urge to urinate (pee). If you can't get to the toilet in time, and experience an involuntary loss of urine, you said to have urge incontinence.

Many women experience a combination of urge and stress incontinence.

What can I do if I have bladder control problems?

Bladder control problems don't have to hamper your lifestyle. Talk to your doctor for advice or contact Continence New Zealand.

Issues with bladder control can be annoying but there are a few simple measures that can help women with mild to moderate bladder control problems.

  • Reduce coffee, tea and alcohol intake.
  • Reduce intake of bladder irritants such as fizzy drinks, fruit juices and artificial sweeteners.
  • Do pelvic floor muscle exercises – these can strengthen the muscles that empty your bladder. 7 out of 10 women with stress incontinence can become dry or significantly improve by doing pelvic floor exercises.
  • Train your bladder to hold more urine without leaks. Bladder training is sometimes combined with medication. 
  • Use continence products to help you manage urine leaks.

See self-care for bladder control problems for more detailed information on pelvic floor exercises and bladder training. 


If you experience ongoing problems with urinary incontinence that is not helped by the self-care measures above, your doctor may prescribe you an anticholinergic medication, such as oxybutynin, solifenacin or tolterodine. These act on your bladder muscles to help improve bladder control.

Learn more

Bladder control problems in women Continence NZ
Promoting good bladder and bowel health  Continence NZ
Urinary problems Ministry of Health, NZ

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team . Reviewed By: Andreea Dumitru, Senior RN from CCDHB, SIDU - Capital & Coast & Lower Hutt Last reviewed: 31 Oct 2015