Some women are ashamed about their problem, or they decide to use absorbent pads or change their behavior to deal with it. But in most cases, urinary incontinence can be greatly improved with treatment, so there's no need to suffer.
The bladder (which stores urine) and the urethra (which carries urine outside of the body) control urination. Under normal circumstances, the muscles around the urethra relax and then the bladder contracts, causing urination to begin.
The flow of urine stops when the muscles around the urethra contract and the bladder relaxes. Urinary-tract infections, weakened muscles and ligaments that hold the pelvic organs in place, abnormalities in the urinary tract, neuromuscular disorders and medications such as diuretics can interfere with urinary tract function and lead to incontinence.
Your doctor may suggest that you lose weight, stop smoking, avoid heavy lifting, drink less caffeine or get treatment for any lung ailments that make you cough. Your doctor might also recommend special pelvic exercises ("Kegel" exercises) to help strengthen the muscles around the bladder and the urethra, or suggest going to the bathroom on a schedule.
Surgery is an option if other treatments have been unsuccessful.
To learn more, a pamphlet on "Urinary Incontinence" is available at: www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp081.cfm .