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Stress Urinary Incontinence

Stress Urinary Incontinence - What it is

​How often have you coughed or laughed too hard, and experienced a urinary leakage, but were too embarrassed to tell anyone? Well, you're not alone!

In the United States alone, it is estimated that there are about 10 - 20 million women suffering from the involuntary loss of urine. In Singapore, about 15% of women suffer from stress urinary incontinence. Yet few women are talking about it, being too embarrassed to mention it even to their friends or doctors. Most adapt by altering their lifestyles so as to avoid embarrassment, thinking that incontinence is a normal process of ageing.

What Is Stress Urinary Incontinence?

You may experience leaking of urine with exercise or exertion that increases intra-abdominal pressure. These include aerobics, running, and even laughing, coughing or sneezing. Different women have different degrees of leakage - some suffer only a few drops, others leak in spurts. Some may leak so frequently that they need to wear sanitary pads everyday or change their lifestyles to reduce the chance of embarassing themselves.

Stress Urinary Incontinence - Symptoms

Stress Urinary Incontinence - How to prevent?

Stress Urinary Incontinence - Causes and Risk Factors

What Causes Stress Urinary Incontinence?

Stress urinary incontinence is caused either by the weakening of the pelvic floor support, which results from pregnancy, childbirth and menopause, or by the intrinsic loss of normal urethral function. Conditions that increase the intra-abdominal pressure may further worsen the problem, like obesity, prolonged coughing, constipation and heavy lifting.

Who Can I Consult?

  • Gynaecologist
  • Urogynaecologist: A gynaecologist with further training in common bladder disorders and pelvic floor dysfunction.
  • Urologist: A surgeon who is trained in managing bladder and kidney disorders.

Stress Urinary Incontinence - Diagnosis

What Investigations Do I Need To For?

The following tests may be ordered for you:

  1. Urine Test: To exclude urinary infection
  2. Pad Test: You are asked to drink 500 mls of water. A pre-weighed sanitary pad is worn and weighed one hour later. During which time, you are asked to perform activities such as walking, bending, coughing and climbing stairs. It is done to quantify incontinence
  3. Erect Stress Test: You are asked to cough in a standing position onto a pre-weighed incontinent sheet, which is then weighed to quantify the loss
  4. Residual urine: To exclude voiding difficulties and overflow incontinence
  5. Uroflometry: To measure urinary flow rate
  6. Urodyamic study: A test that measures the detrusor muscle pressure at rest and during activities like coughing and passing urine. It helps in differentiating the various types of urinary incontinence and voiding disorders
  7. Ultrasound scan: To exclude associated gynaecological conditions, to measure bladder volume and bladder neck mobility

Stress Urinary Incontinence - Treatments

Are There Any Treatment Available?

Yes. It can be divided into conservative and surgical treatment. There are at present, no effective drugs in treating stress urinary incontinence.

Conservative / Non-surgical Treatment

  • Pelvic Floor Exercises: The physiotherapist will teach you how to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. You have to do it everyday in your own time.
  • Vaginal Cones: To insert cones of increasing weight into the vagina and contract your pelvic floor muscles in order to retain these cones.
  • Electrical Stimulation: Electrical current is used to stimulate your pelvic floor muscles to contract. It is for women who have poor result from pelvic floor exercises. The improvement from the above treatment is observed only after 2 - 3 months. If there is no improvement, you may consider surgical intervention.

Surgical Treatment

The objective of the operation is to restore urinary continence. If you also have an associated uterovaginal prolapse, you may be advised to have a hysterectomy and pelvic floor repair as well.

The main types of surgery are:

  1. Tension-free Vaginal Tape (TVT & TVT-O) - a relatively new method with very good success rate of 94% since KKH started using it in 1998. It has become the commonest type of continence surgery performed at KKH. It is relatively less painful and requires a short hospitalisation of 2 to 3 days.
  2. Burch Colposuspension - It has been superseded by the TVT in recent years but is still a reliable procedure used in treating female stress urinary incontinence. It has an 85% success rate in the first year and up to 70% in 10 years. It requires a 7 cm abdominal incision and an average of 4 days stay in the hospital
  3. Other surgeries include needle bladder neck suspension, suburethral slings and collagen injections etc.


Stress urinary incontinence can be cured or improved. Please do not suffer in silence. See your doctor early for assessment and advice.

Stress Urinary Incontinence - Preparing for surgery

Stress Urinary Incontinence - Post-surgery care

Stress Urinary Incontinence - Other Information

The information provided is not intended as medical advice. Terms of use. Information provided by SingHealth

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