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Geisinger becomes the first member of Risant Health

Does sneezing make you pee a little? It could be stress incontinence.

This common issue can happen from more than just sneezing. And it can affect anyone. Learn what causes it and how to prevent it.

What is stress incontinence?

“Stress incontinence or leaky bladder happens when the muscles around your bladder (also called your pelvic floor) weaken,” says Sandra Culbertson, MD, Geisinger urogynecologist. 

When that happens, certain activities or movements put excess pressure on your bladder. That added pressure causes urine to leak. So how much leakage can happen? “Leaking urine can range from a few drops to a full stream,” Dr. Culbertson says.

Common causes of stress incontinence include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Hormonal shifts
  • Being overweight

Other causes include: 

  • Aging
  • Repetitive heavy lifting or high-impact activities
  • Genetics/family history of stress incontinence

What to watch for

Not sure what you’re looking for? You might have these common symptoms of urinary incontinence.

Leaking urine during activities

“You may notice leaking in certain positions or during activities that put pressure on the bladder,” Dr. Culbertson notes. With stress incontinence, you may leak urine when you:

  • Cough
  • Sneeze
  • Laugh
  • Exercise
  • Bend over
  • Lift heavy objects
  • Have sex
  • Run

Waking up at night to urinate

Frequent nighttime restroom visits can be exhausting. They can also be a hallmark symptom of stress incontinence. How many is too many? “Getting up more than once a night can point to weak pelvic floor muscles,” says Dr. Culbertson.

Wetting the bed

It’s not just something that affects children. Stress incontinence can lead to nighttime bedwetting. Consider speaking with your healthcare provider if it’s happening often.

Other things you might notice: having a sudden urge to go or not making it to the bathroom in time.

Treating stress incontinence

Depending on the severity and cause, your provider may recommend different treatments.

Pelvic floor therapy

Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the muscles around your bladder. Improving that strength can give you better bladder control and reduce the severity and frequency of your symptoms. People who have difficulty doing pelvic floor exercises may benefit from help from a physical therapist who’s specifically trained in treating the pelvic floor. 

Lifestyle changes

To reduce the frequency and intensity of your symptoms, consider lifestyle changes like:

  • Managing your weight
  • Limiting your fluid intake, especially in the evening
  • Quitting smoking


A variety of surgical options are available to treat a leaky bladder. Your provider may recommend one of these:


During this procedure, your provider guides a small camera into your urethra. That allows them to insert a needle and inject a substance called a urethral bulking agent. The agent helps to tighten the tissue surrounding your bladder, making it less likely to leak.

Urethral sling

If a urethral sling is recommended, your provider will insert a small piece of mesh around the urethra. The sling works like a hammock, supporting the urethra and bladder neck. That extra support around your pelvic floor muscles helps prevent leakage.

Relief is near

Ready to sneeze without worry? It starts with a conversation with your healthcare provider. After assessing your symptoms, they’ll help you find the right treatment plan.

Next steps:

Learn about urogynecology care at Geisinger 
Urine colors, decoded 
7 ways to keep your bladder healthy 

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