BACKGROUND: Urinary incontinence is a common problem for adult women. It results in a large financial and psychosocial cost. Much urinary incontinence goes unreported. Women with urinary incontinence can be successfully assessed and treated in general practice but studies have shown that many GPs manage the condition inadequately. AIM: This study aims to examine GPs' awareness of urinary incontinence in women and their management of, and attitudes to, female urinary incontinence. METHOD: A qualitative study was conducted with 21 GPs responding to semi-structured interviews. Thematic analysis was carried out on these interviews, with recurrent views and experiences being identified and grouped. RESULTS: The interviews of 11 male and nine female GPs were suitable for analysis. GPs were aware of the prevalence and under-reporting of urinary incontinence in women. Many were unhappy with their own management of the condition and with the management options available to them. Male GPs in particular were reluctant to carry out gynaecological examinations, and few GPs expressed enthusiasm for teaching pelvic floor exercises or bladder drills. Medications were frequently used but generally considered ineffective or intolerable. The services of both public health nurses and practice nurses were under-used, largely because of lack of training in this area. Although incontinence nurses were employed in the area, many GPs did not know of their availability and, of those who did, few referred to them more than infrequently. CONCLUSION: This study demonstrates that many GPs avoid dealing with the problem of urinary incontinence in women and that they find it to be a difficult, chronic problem to treat. Specialist options seem not to be useful in general practice. The findings need to be explored in other GP settings.