As many as 1 in 3 women and 1 in 7 men will experience some form of incontinence at some stage in their lives. There really isn’t any reason to be embarrassed about it, as often it cannot be helped but if you are having problems you are not alone as we probably all know someone affected, even if we don’t realise it. Living with incontinence of any kind can be worrying but there are people available to offer help and guidance.

What is incontinence?
Incontinence is the inability to control your bladder or bowel, so you accidentally lose urine from the bladder or feces from the bowel.
What causes incontinence?
Causes of urinary incontinence may include:
  • Weak pelvic floor muscles
  • Changes in the nerves controlling the bladder or pelvic floor
  • Overactive bladder
  • Enlarged prostate (for men)

Causes of bowel incontinence may include:

  • Weak bowel muscles
  • Changes in the nerves controlling the bowel
  • Diarrhoea
What are the symptoms of incontinence?
The symptoms differ from person to person. Some people have the occasional leak, while others can completely lose control of their bladder or bowels.

Some typical symptoms of urinary incontinence may include:

  • Leaking urine when coughing, sneezing, laughing or exercising
  • Leaking urine before getting to the toilet
  • Passing urine frequently
  • Urgent need to pass urine
  • Wetting the bed when asleep
  • A feeling that the bladder doesn’t empty completely

Symptoms of bowel incontinence may include:

  • Leaking from the bowel
  • Urgent need to open bowels
  • Being unable to control wind
  • Straining or difficulty emptying bowels
How is incontinence diagnosed?
If you have a bladder or bowel problem, talking to a health professional is the first step you can take to help yourself. A doctor can assess your symptoms, identify the cause, and discuss what treatment or exercises may help cure or tackle your problems.

To help diagnose the problem your doctor may ask for or perform these tests:

  • A diary of your bladder habits
  • A physical examination to assess your bladder, pelvic floor muscles (women), or prostate (men)
  • A sample of your urine for testing
  • A blood test to check the health of your kidneys
  • An ultrasound scan of your bladder

Some tests may help your doctor find the cause of your incontinence or a temporary problem, such as a urine infection, that can be treated quickly.

How is incontinence treated?
Managing a weak bladder or bowel is an individual thing and sometimes more than one treatment is needed.

Treatments might include:

  • Exercises to help you strengthen the muscles surround the bladder (pelvic floor exercises) or bowel
  • Bladder or bowel training
  • Medications
  • Surgery may be an option if other treatments haven’t worked
How can incontinence products help me?
The right incontinence products will also help you manage the problem and carry on with normal life.

Products may include:

  • Washable products such as re-usable pads, which often come as part of a pair of pants
  • Disposable pads which are held in place by close-fitting pants
  • Disposable pants, or all-in-one pads with a plastic backing and adhesive patches to seal the sides
  • Bed or chair protectors in the form of disposable or washable pads

Understanding your own requirements and the options you have can be a big step in living with incontinence. If you are mildly affected and can manage your needs there is no reason why it should disrupt your normal routine, and many people do continue to live with minimal inconvenience.

Once you understand the options available to you, you need to ensure you find the right product to suit your needs. There are a large variety of brands available however we would suggest trailing them as best you can to ensure you find one suitable for your requirements. The wrong product or poor-quality products, not only don’t work well but could end up being costly as you may need to use more of them. It is easy to buy continence pads but it’s not so easy finding the right ones.

See our post about ‘How to Manage Incontinence at Night?’

Check the NHS website for more details about urinary incontinence: Urinary incontinence – NHS (