A weak bladder in an adult or child might feel like an embarrassing condition, especially as it’s not often talked about. However, it’s far more common than you might think, reported to affect millions of people globally1. In this article, we look at how many people live with this condition around the world and what causes it.
What is a weak bladder?
Involuntarily leaking urine is referred to as a weak bladder or urinary incontinence.2 This means that you urinate or leak urine when you do not intend to. It can be caused by a variety of factors and affects a wider range of people than stereotypically thought. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just a condition that older people experience and, by talking about it, we can break down the taboo.
Causes of weak bladders
There are several reasons you might experience urinary incontinence and certain factors that increase your chance of developing it.3 These include:
- Childbirth and pregnancy
- Being overweight
- Damage to the bladder during surgery
- Neurological conditions (those affecting nerves), such as Parkinson’s disease
- Certain connective tissue disorders such as Ehler-Danlos syndrome
- Certain medicines
- Too much caffeine or alcohol
- Urinary tract infections or tumours in the bladder
- Prostate problems
- Bladder stones.4
Certain risk factors increase the chance of bladder weakness, such as family history, increasing age and other issues with the bladder and urethra.5 All of the above may lead to involuntary urine leaking.
A weak bladder in women
Urinary incontinence is twice as likely to affect women as men.6 This is because of events unique to female reproductive health, such as pregnancy, childbirth and menopause, that affect the bladder, urethra and pelvic floor muscles. It is estimated that one-third of women in the UK experience bladder weakness, with it being more common in older women.7
A weak bladder in men
Men are less likely to experience a weak bladder. However certain male-specific factors can increase their chances of encountering bladder weakness, such as prostate issues and prostate cancer. It is still fairly common in men, with studies showing that 3% to 11% of men in the UK experience urinary incontinence.8
Children leaking urine
While it is common for children under three not to have complete bladder control, urinary incontinence can affect older children too. This can be due to a variety of reasons, including:
- Certain conditions, such as diabetes
- Slower physical development
- Urinary tract infections.9
While 90% of children have urinary continence by age , night-time incontinence is still fairly common in children, with about 30% of children aged 4 experiencing it, 10% of children aged 7, 3% of children aged 12 and 1% of young people aged 18.10
 “Urinary incontinence”, NHS, 7 November 2019, Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-incontinence/
 “Urinary incontinence: What you need to know”, Tim Newman, 14 December 2017, Source: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/165408#_noHeaderPrefixedContent
 “Causes: Urinary incontinence”, NHS, 7 November 2019, Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-incontinence/causes/
 “Urinary incontinence”, Women’s Health, 31 January 2019, Source: https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/urinary-incontinence
 “Urinary incontinence in women”, NICE, 22 January 2015, Source: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs77/resources/urinary-incontinence-in-women-pdf-2098853147077
 “Why Do Men Experience Urinary Incontinence?”, Ruth Hilton, 22 April 2020, Source: https://www.hartmanndirect.co.uk/information-centre/men-incontinence/
 “Urinary Incontinence in Children”, Hopkins Medicine, n.d., Source: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/urinary-incontinence/urinary-incontinence-in-children
 “Urinary Incontinence in Children”, Teodoro Ernesto Figueroa, October 2019, Source: https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-gb/home/children-s-health-issues/incontinence-in-children/urinary-incontinence-in-children#:~:text=Bed%2Dwetting%20or%20nighttime%20incontinence,account%20when%20diagnosing%20urinary%20incontinence.