What It Really Means If You Pee When You Sneeze

For many, it is an uncomfortably familiar feeling. When a sneeze is coming on, they have to cross their legs and squeeze at the same time to avoid another issue altogether. And if the sneeze sneaks up on them, they have to make a dash to the bathroom before an all-too-private leak becomes obvious.

It's an embarrassing situation, but one far more common than many realize. The University of North Carolina Health Talk explains that urinary incontinence affects between one third and one fourth of Americans. And while the condition can affect people of both sexes, the specific incontinence brought on by a sneeze — known as stress incontinence — most often affects women. This is because women can undergo major bodily changes like pregnancy, childbirth, hysterectomies, and menopause. These events make stress incontinence much more likely because they affect a specific part of the body known as the pelvic floor.

Common and curable

As the University of Washington Medicine puts it, the pelvic floor is the collective name for the muscle and tissues attached to the bones toward the bottom of the pelvis. In short, they form a floor under your pelvic bones. They go on to describe it as a sort of "hammock" for the reproductive organs as well as the bladder, colon, and rectum. In women, the pelvic floor most commonly changes and weakens due to pregnancy, birth, the onset of menopause, or a hysterectomy (per University of North Carolina Health Talk). In turn, the pelvic floor is less able to prevent bladder leakage. So when the woman sneezes, pee escapes. As mentioned before, however, these are not the only times incontinence may develop. Other possible risk factors including age, smoking history, family history, diabetes, and being overweight.

Regardless of the reason, stress incontinence is often treatable. Options include performing Kegels or seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist. The Mayo Clinic also lists several medications which can help people more fully empty their bladders when they want to, as well as lifestyle changes like regularly scheduled bathroom breaks and the use of absorbent pads to reduce visible leaks. More invasive options such as surgery are also available if other treatments prove insufficient.