Risk Factors for Urinary Incontinence

Having a healthy bladder means that your brain and the nerves and muscles around your bladder work together properly. Usually, your brain tells these muscles to release urine when your bladder is full. But sometimes, this communication between your brain and bladder doesn’t work right. This can happen if the nerves or muscles in your pelvic area get damaged or weakened. When this happens, you might develop a problem called urinary incontinence, meaning you can’t control when you urinate and often leading to leaks and a worsened quality of life.
Urinary incontinence affects both men and women but is more common in women. There are several types of urinary incontinence, each with its own symptoms and risk factors. Keep reading to learn about the most common risk factors for urinary incontinence.

Risk Factors for Urinary Incontinence

To understand the risk factors for urinary incontinence, it helps to be familiar with the different types of urinary incontinence. These are:
  • Urge incontinence – Occurs when an individual suddenly feels a strong urge to urinate, sometimes leading to leaks if they can’t reach a restroom in time. 
  • Stress incontinence – Involves accidental urine release when everyday actions like coughing, sneezing, laughing, sitting, or standing create sudden pressure on the pelvic area.
  • Mixed incontinence – Combines the symptoms of both urge and stress incontinence.

So, what are the risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing urinary incontinence? Factors such as gender, age, family history and lifestyle choices can play a role – learn about each below.


Urinary incontinence is more common in women than men. One key factor is the way the female and male bodies are built: in women, the tube that carries urine out, called the urethra, is shorter than in men. This means there’s less resistance to urine leakage. 
In addition, certain events that are unique to each gender can also play a role in causing urinary incontinence. For women, experiences like pregnancy and childbirth can weaken the muscles that support the bladder, making incontinence more likely. Vaginal childbirth can also damage the nerves or muscles in the pelvic area, increasing the risk of both stress and urge incontinence. In men, the most common risk factors for urinary incontinence are prostate enlargement, prostate cancer, and treatments such as radical prostatectomy (surgery to remove the prostate) and radiotherapy (a type of cancer treatment) for prostate cancer.
    Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can heighten the risk for urinary incontinence in both genders.  


As people get older, their risk of experiencing urinary incontinence tends to increase. This happens because the muscles surrounding the bladder can gradually become weaker with age. In women specifically, aging brings significant hormonal changes, particularly during menopause.  Menopause marks a time when hormone levels, especially estrogen, go through significant shifts. A decrease in estrogen during this phase can have negative effects on the lining of the bladder, potentially contributing to incontinence.     Urinary incontinence does not have to be accepted as a normal part of life and can, in fact, be treated successfully – more on that later in this article.


Studies have found that being overweight or obese significantly increases the risk of incontinence, particularly in young and middle-aged women. This has to do with both metabolic health as well as the effect of excess body weight on weakening the pelvic floor.


Smoking cigarettes is associated with an increased risk of both urinary incontinence and overactive bladder (OAB). Smoking can irritate the lining of the bladder and contribute to urge incontinence; it can also lead to coughing spasms that lead to or worsen stress incontinence and bladder leaks.

Family History

Like many health conditions, a family history of urinary incontinence increases the likelihood that you will experience urinary incontinence.

Treating Urinary Incontinence

Initial treatments for urinary incontinence target people’s lifestyles and behaviors. Behavior and lifestyle changes may include dietary changes, fluid intake monitoring, bladder training, or smoking cessation, may be included.
When behavioral therapies do not sufficiently resolve symptoms, other treatment options are considered. For women with Stress Urinary Incontinence, urethral bulking agents such as Bulkamid® are available. Bulkamid is a water-based gel that is injected into the wall of the urethra in order to “bulk up” the walls. Adding additional volume to the wall of the urethra helps prevent urine from leaking out of the bladder during normal daily activities
Learn more about Bulkamid and find out if it is right for you.
For people with urge incontinence (also referred to as overactive bladder), your physician may recommend advanced treatments such as Axonics® Therapy, which uses Sacral Neuromodulation to restore healthy bladder function. 
Learn more about Sacral Neuromodulation to find out if Axonics Therapy is right for you.

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