Incontinence is a common and distressing problem. If you’ve experienced it then you’re not alone - it’s just that most people don’t like to talk about it. Actually, incontinence affects over one million Australians. Most people think of it as something that happens to older people or pregnant women, but it can affect people of all ages.

Incontinence is embarrassing, and often frustrating, because it makes you feel like you don’t have control over your own body anymore. But incontinence isn’t something you have to live with. With the right kind of treatment, you can get your bladder problem back under control. This brochure will help you understand the different ways you can manage this condition, or, in some cases, even regain complete continence.

Types of incontinence

Incontinence is when you have trouble controlling your bladder or tend to leak at awkward moments. It has degrees of severity. Some people will get only occasional, minor leaks. Others wet their clothes often.

What type of urinary incontinence you’ve got is shown by your symptoms or the circumstances at the time you leak urine.

There are three main types of urinary incontinence, all are treatable:

Stress incontinence

This is caused by weak pelvic floor muscles (the muscles that support your bladder). Leakages happen when you exert

sudden stress or pressure on your bladder like sneezing, coughing, laughing or lifting. This muscle weakness has been

linked to pregnancy, obesity and constipation. Some medicines can also cause or increase stress incontinence.

Urge incontinence

This is a sudden, intense urge to urinate. Your body may give you a warning of only a few seconds or a bit longer to reach a toilet and you might not make it. With urge incontinence, you may need to urinate often. The urge to urinate can even wake you up several times a night. Urge incontinence may be caused by a urinary tract infection, stress, anxiety, a spinal injury, an obstruction (e.g. constipation or an enlarged prostate in men), diabetes, a stroke or by anything that irritates the bladder.

Overflow incontinence

If you frequently dribble urine, you may have overflow incontinence. Overflow incontinence is when you have trouble emptying your bladder properly and it gets too full. This makes it overflow uncontrollably and leak urine. With overflow incontinence, you may feel as if you can never completely empty your bladder - or that you need to empty your bladder but can’t. When you try to urinate, you may produce only a weak stream of urine. This type of incontinence is common with people who have conditions of the nervous system, poor muscle contraction, or obstructions (e.g. constipation, enlarged prostate in men).