There are many times when we feel betrayed by our bladders. Examples include forcing us to get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night or to stop every hour on an otherwise fun family road trip.


Our bladders work hard, and sometimes they aren't quite as effective as we'd like. The majority of women have at some point dealt with incontinence, the unintentional loss of urine. The condition is common among females, with 7 to 37 percent of those between the ages of 20 and 39 reporting some degree of incontinence.


Urinary incontinence occurs more often in women than in men because of a variety of contributing factors, such as pregnancy, vaginal delivery and menopause. Other causes are weak or overactive bladder muscles as well as nerve damage.


Incontinence is typically a minor and rare nuisance that's easily solved. But for some women, it can be a chronic issue that significantly impacts their quality of life.


There are several types of this disorder, including: stress urinary incontinence, in which urine leaks after pressure is put on the bladder (examples: coughing, sneezing, laughing); urge incontinence, in which there's an urgent feeling of needing to urinate; overflow incontinence, in which the bladder is never empty; and mixed incontinence, which is having two or more types. The most common mix is stress and urge incontinence together.


Female athletes, both amateur and professional, often suffer from stress urinary incontinence. More than 41 percent of young female athletes reported at least one episode of it during high-impact activities.


Since female athletes spend time gaining muscle, one would think the pelvic muscles would get stronger as a result, but the reverse is true. Overuse of the pelvic muscles causes them to become weak and fatigue more easily. In addition, approximately 25 percent of women under age 40 experience this problem during physical activity.


A study published in the International Urogynecology Journal took a sample of 291 elite athletes and dancers who were on average 23 years old. The study showed a high prevalence of leakage within gymnastics, at 56 percent of participants suffering from it, closely followed by ballet at 43 percent, and aerobics at 40 percent. Other sports like badminton, volleyball, handball and basketball also had a high occurrence.


These medical conditions are often viewed as harmless, but the results can be embarrassing and a constant source of worry and discomfort for the women affected, even leading to social isolation, marital distress and depression. In short, this ailment is stigmatizing for many women.


Almost 90 percent of women with the malady don't discuss it with their healthcare providers and, therefore, don't get the proper support and treatment they need.


The good news: There are numerous treatments available for each type of urinary incontinence, including medication, devices, surgery, discipline therapy and pelvic floor exercises. For more info, go to



Natalia Gurevich works with the Society for Women's Health Research, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C.