Skip to Content

What causes stress urinary incontinence (SUI)?

Over 60% of adult women experience urinary incontinence, over 37% of them experience SUI.1

Incontinence, also known as urine leakage or bladder leakage, can be caused by any number of factors. It can develop slowly or occur as the result of a specific life event.

Stress urinary incontinence occurs when the muscles that support the urethra or the muscle that controls the release of urine, the urinary sphincter, weaken.2 Stress incontinence does not have a connection to emotional stress.2

Causes of stress urinary incontinence


According to some studies, there is increasing evidence that urinary incontinence is related to a person’s genetics.3 If someone in your family has urine leakage issues, your are more likely to experience it in your lifetime as well.

Pregnancy and childbirth

During pregnancy, carrying a baby can put extra pressure on the bladder.4 During labor and delivery, the nerves and muscles that control urinary function can also become damaged.4 Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) after childbirth is common.4


Bladder control problems can develop as a woman ages.5

And like all muscles, the bladder and urethra lose strength over time, which can make it difficult to hold the same amount of urine as you used to.

Pelvic floor disorders

Women’s pelvic floor muscles hold up the pelvic organs, including the vagina, cervix, uterus, bladder, urethra, intestines and rectum. If these muscles and tissue weaken, it can lead to urine leakage, accidental bowel leakage and pelvic organ prolapse (POP).6

Previous pelvic surgeries

Any surgery involving a woman’s reproductive organs has a potential for damaging the pelvic floor muscles surrounding the surgical site.5 This is especially true if part of the pelvic floor is removed, such as during a hysterectomy.5


There are a few other conditions or activities that have been linked as potential causes of urine leakage.

  • Caffeine consumption: Some studies suggest that that women who drink more than two cups of caffeinated beverages per day may be more likely to have problems with incontinence in the long run.5
  • Excess body weight: Being overweight can put extra pressure on the bladder, which can weaken the muscles over time.5
  • Smoking: Current smokers, and even those who’ve quit, are at an increased risk of stress urinary incontinence. Cigarette smoking causes chronic coughing. A constant cough can damage the muscles of the pelvic floor.7
  • Lung conditions: Specific health conditions that cause frequent coughing, like emphysema or cystic fibrosis, are also contributing factors to stress incontinence.7

Where to look next

Symptoms of incontinence

Finding the right doctor


  1. Patel, U. J., Godecker, A. L., Giles, D. L., & Brown, H. W. (2022). Updated Prevalence of Urinary Incontinence in Women: 2015-2018 National Population-Based Survey Data. Female pelvic medicine & reconstructive surgery, 28(4), 181–187.
  2. What is Urinary Incontinence? Urology Care Foundation. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
  3. McKenzie, P., Rohozinski, J., & Badlani, G. (2010). Genetic influences on stress urinary incontinence. Current Opinion in Urology, 20(4), 291–295.
  4. Bladder control: Symptoms & Types. Voices for PFD. Retrieved February 15, 2023 frp,
  5. (2021, February 22). Urinary incontinence. Office on Women’s Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
  6. (2022, July 1). Urinary Incontinence Frequently Asked Questions. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
  7. Voices for PFD. Stress Urinary Incontinence. AUGS. Retrieved February 9, 2023 from