Urinary Incontinence risk factors

Reading time: 2 min

There are different risk factors that can bring about or worsen urinary incontinence:

Non-modifiable factors

DNA molecule or helix

Genetics. Some women are born with weak pelvic floor muscles or which are more likely to weaken. There is a greater likelihood of suffering incontinence if there is a history of it in your family.

Pregnant woman

PregnancyHormones released during pregnancy relax tissues in the pelvic floor and enable the muscles to stretch. Additionally, weight gained as the baby grows affects the pelvic floor muscles in terms of maintaining optimal continence function.

Woman holding a baby in her arms

ChildbirthDuring childbirth, the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder, vagina and rectum, are stretched to the limit by the pressure from the baby’s head pushing through them until it emerges from the vagina. In some women these muscles and the tissues around them never fully recover their tightness and the structures are weakened giving rise to urinary and faecal incontinence.

Symbol of the woman and a watch

Menopause. At this stage of life, due to hormonal alterations, the body can undergo different changes that induce or aggravate the symptoms of incontinence and other problems associated with the pelvic floor.

Female reproductive system

Gynaecological surgery. Gynaecological surgery, e.g., removal of the uterus (hysterectomy), or other therapeutic procedures in the pelvic region, such as radiotherapy, can affect the nerves or anatomical structures that maintain continence. These changes can induce or worsen the symptoms of urinary incontinence or produce a bulging feeling in the genital area because the pelvic organs have descended (prolapse).

Modifiable factors

Scale with an arrow pointing upwards indicating a weight increase

ObesityIt has been shown that overweight and obesity are risk factors for stress incontinence due to the increased pressure inside the abdomen and therefore against the bladder. This effect can also contribute to the appearance or aggravation of other problems associated with the pelvic floor, such as pelvic organ prolapse or urge incontinence.

Woman with tummy ache next to the WC

Chronic constipationAn increase in abdominal force to bring about correct evacuation exerts pressure on the pelvic structures and strains the pelvic floor muscles, causing them to weaken.


Smoking. There is evidence that smoking is a risk factor for stress incontinence as regular smokers tend to cough chronically, leading to an increase in abdominal pressure.

Hot drink mug

Bladder stimulants. Excessive consumption of certain substances (caffeine, alcoholic, fizzy and artificially sweetened drinks) produce an overstimulation of the bladder, worsening the symptoms of urinary urgency and increasing the desire to visit the bathroom.

Bottled water

Overdrinking. Drinking too much fluid (over 1.5 l per day) can lead to the onset or worsening of incontinence.

Sweating woman carrying two bags

Physical strain. Some of the activities we perform on a daily basis require repeated physical strain, whether due to work, hobbies, posture, etc. This results in an increase in abdominal pressure and overloads the pelvic floor structures, which can induce or worsen the symptoms of stress incontinence. Women who practise contact sports, or sports with stops and starts, weights, bending, etc., present a greater risk.

Substantiated information by:

Amelia Pérez González
Montserrat Espuña Pons
Sònia Anglès Acedo

Published: 20 February 2018
Updated: 20 February 2018

The donations that can be done through this webpage are exclusively for the benefit of Hospital Clínic of Barcelona through Fundació Clínic per a la Recerca Biomèdica and not for BBVA Foundation, entity that collaborates with the project of PortalClínic.


Receive the latest updates related to this content.

Thank you for subscribing!

If this is the first time you subscribe you will receive a confirmation email, check your inbox

An error occurred and we were unable to send your data, please try again later.