This Condition Could Be Why You Always Have to Pee

If you're newly postpartum and had a vaginal delivery, you could be experiencing a type of urinary incontinence.

Woman Holding Bladder
Photo: Getty Images

You might have that friend (or maybe it's you) who, without fail, suddenly needs to stop and pee during every road trip, social outing, or movie night. Urinary incontinence, aka loss of bladder control, is a common issue that can give you immediate, all-consuming urges to go number one, which results in an accident.

If this sounds like you, rest assured that you aren't alone. Over 33 million American adults experience temporary or chronic urinary incontinence, according to the National Association for Continence. And while you might associate the condition with growing older, it's something that affects many young adult women, especially those who have given birth vaginally. The issue can be uncomfortable and inconvenient, but luckily there are solutions. Ahead, learn more about what causes the problem and the most common urinary incontinence treatment options. (

What Is Urinary Incontinence?

"Urinary incontinence is a medical condition in which patients experience involuntary leakage of urine," says Peter Stahl, M.D., senior vice president of men's reproductive and sexual health and urology at Hims & Hers. "It can range from annoying leakage of very small amounts of urine to embarrassing and uncomfortable involuntary leakage of large amounts of urine that requires a change of clothing."

Urinary incontinence results from your bladder not functioning properly. "You can think of the bladder as a balloon," says Alex Shteynshlyuger, M.D., a New York City-based urologist. "It can inflate significantly from a small size. Similarly, the bladder has muscles surrounding it, and those muscles are very distensible [capable of expanding]."

Generally speaking, the bladder is controlled by spinal reflexes and the brain, explains Dr. Shteynshlyuger. "Kids rely on spinal reflexes to empty the bladder," he says. "When the bladder gets full, the special cells that measure the distention and pressure in the bladder fire off and give the signal to the spinal column. The spinal column gets the signal, and it realizes that the bladder is too full, and it activates other cells that tell the bladder to compress the bladder muscle, and that's how kids pee." This is why babies can't control when they pee until they're potty-trained. When you're older, you develop impulse control and use your brain, in part, to control when you will pee, according to Dr. Shteynshlyuger. Urinary incontinence can occur due to dysfunction of the muscles around your bladder or injury to the part of your brain that signals your bladder to empty. (

What Are the Types of Urinary Incontinence?

There are several types of urinary incontinence, though urge incontinence and stress incontinence are the most common, according to Dr. Stahl.

Urge Incontinence

Urge incontinence, sometimes referred to as overactive bladder, is exactly what it sounds like. "In urge incontinence, uncontrolled contractions of the bladder muscle occur when they are not supposed to," says Dr. Stahl. This results in a strong sense of urgency that you need to use the bathroom and leaking urine before you're able to get there, often large volumes of urine, he says. "Urge incontinence usually occurs in people who develop overactive bladders, and in patients with certain neurological or neuromuscular diseases that affect bladder control," says Dr. Stahl.

Stress Urinary Incontinence

Another cause of urinary incontinence is stress urinary incontinence, which is "involuntary urine leakage when there is pressure exerted on the bladder by an outside force that increases pressure inside the abdomen," says Dr. Stahl. The pressure can come from everyday occurrences such as laughing, sneezing, jumping on a trampoline, and core exercises, he says. "Stress incontinence occurs when changes in the anatomy of the pelvis, muscle weakness, or urinary sphincter dysfunction make it more difficult for the bladder to hold on to urine," says Dr. Stahl. "These types of changes commonly occur after vaginal childbirth in women, or after some types of prostate surgery in men."

The pelvic floor muscles that control the flow of urine can become weakened because of pregnancy or childbirth, resulting in urinary incontinence, as Shape previously reported. A 2021 review of 24 studies published in the International Urogynecology Journal analyzed the average prevalence of urinary incontinence in postpartum women and found that 31 percent of total subjects had urinary incontinence up to one year postpartum. Stress urinary incontinence was the most common type of urinary incontinence among the postpartum subjects.

Overflow Incontinence

With overflow urinary incontinence, your body produces more pee than your bladder can hold, causing your bladder to leak, according to an article from the American Family Physician journal. This can occur because your bladder becomes obstructed or when the muscle within the walls of your bladder loses its ability to contract due to causes such as multiple sclerosis or taking certain medications (especially psychotropic medications, i.e. anti-anxiety, antidepressant, and antipsychotic medications), according to the article. Overflow incontinence can lead to "dribbling" where you're constantly losing small amounts of pee.

Mixed Incontinence

As the name suggests, mixed incontinence occurs when someone has a combination of both urge incontinence and stress urinary incontinence, according to an article in the journal Pharmacy & Therapeutics. A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of more than 15,000 women aged 20 or older conducted from 2005 through 2016 found that 53 percent of participants had some form of urinary incontinence, and 16 percent of all the participants had mixed urinary incontinence.

Functional Incontinence

Functional incontinence occurs when someone is physically unable to get to a toilet — due to physical or cognitive impairment, or both — in time when they have the urge to pee, according to the American Family Physician article.

How Is Urinary Incontinence Treated?

Your best treatment option depends on the type of urinary incontinence you have. "Stress incontinence is a structural problem that requires a structural fix," says Dr. Stahl. "Exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles and urinary sphincter are usually the first treatment [for stress incontinence]. If that doesn't work, minor surgery is usually required to fix the underlying structural issue."

To treat urge incontinence, doctors typically start by suggesting changes to your lifestyle, then prescribing medication if that doesn't work, according to Dr. Stahl. "The first step is usually eliminating caffeine or other known bladder irritants from the affected patient's diet," he says. "If that is not successful, medication to relax the bladder is the next step. In difficult to control cases, bladder Botox injections or other procedures to modulate neuromuscular bladder function are sometimes necessary." (

Urinary incontinence can be pretty distressing, even when you're dealing with minor leakage. If you're looking for a fix, a urologist can help you figure out your best plan of action.

Updated by Renee Cherry
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