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What Is Incontinence?

Discover treatments, take control and break the stigma.

“I’ve tried drinking less water, I’ve tried sitting still, and I’ve tried squeezing my pelvic muscles super tight. But why do I pee when I sneeze? It’s very embarrassing.” This is incontinence – a common condition experienced by 1 in 4 women all over the world (there’s no need to worry).

Although it can be uncomfortable and have you carrying around extra pads, it’s certainly manageable. Discover everything you need to know about incontinence, treatment, and managing the condition. Let’s take back control!

Incontinence definition: exploring the meaning of incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the unpredictable loss of bladder control that results in involuntary bladder leaks. One minute you’re all good, and the next minute you desperately need the toilet. The condition is often due to weakened pelvic muscles or damage to parts of the nervous system that help us hold and release urine. It’s also typically experienced by pregnant and postpartum women. On the other hand, continence refers to having control over your bladder and bowel movements.

Although this article focuses on lighter incontinence in younger adults, there is still the prevalence of heavy incontinence due to ageing. As you get older, your bladder muscles tend to weaken. This could result in heavy incontinence in which approximately 75ml or more of urine suddenly leaks from the bladder over a period of 24 hours. But regardless of whether your incontinence is heavy or light, there are still plenty of ways to manage the condition and enjoy what life has to offer.

What are the causes of incontinence?

There are several reasons why you may experience incontinence. The common causes include:

  • Weakened pelvic muscles
  • Overactive bladder muscles
  • Chronic bladder inflammation
  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Hysterectomy
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vaginal infections
  • Constipation
  • Stress
  • Menopause
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Post-surgery side effects
  • Neurological disorders e.g. Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis
  • Medications (often chronic)
  • Unbalanced hormones e.g. Oestrogen depletion
  • Bodily changes due to ageing
  • Enlarged prostate glands in men (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia)

What are the symptoms of incontinence?

There are several incontinence symptoms that you might experience. Here are the common signs of the condition:

  • Sudden urge to go the toilet
  • Bladder leaks when coughing, sneezing, or engaging in physical activities
  • Bladder leakage without feeling the urge to urinate
  • Frequent urination during the day or at night
  • Wetting the bed

If you experience any of these symptoms for longer than 4 weeks, you may want to consider getting a diagnosis for peace of mind and treatment advice.

“There is constant societal pressure on women to be the pinnacle of health and hygiene – and that’s what makes incontinence a vulnerable experience for many.”

The different types of incontinence

There are several types of incontinence and you might have more than one. As an estimated figure, stress incontinence is experienced by up to 35% of adult women, making it the most common. But it’s still important to know about all the different types of incontinence and how they might affect your body.

What are the 5 types of urinary incontinence?

• Urge Incontinence: Out of the blue, you have the strong urge to urinate
Individuals experiencing urge incontinence often need to urinate frequently and throughout the night. This results in involuntary bladder leaks and potentially wetting the bed. The cause could be a minor infection or a more severe condition such as diabetes or neurological disorders.

Stress Incontinence: Physical activity or body movement puts stress on the bladder 
This type of incontinence is caused when pressure on the bladder results in loss of urine. The leaks are usually a side-effect of coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising or lifting heavy objects. Contrary to the name, stress urinary incontinence has nothing to do with your emotions, but we still recommend taking care of your mental health. Selfcare is key.

• Functional Incontinence: A physical or mental health condition prevents you from using the toilet
Individuals with functional incontinence can’t get to the toilet fast enough. For example, a person with cerebral palsy might have trouble walking to the bathroom and removing their trousers. Nevertheless, people with functional incontinence often have no problems with the actual functioning of their bladder – and they might even have super strong pelvic muscles. It’s just a matter of trying to get to the toilet before it’s too late.

• Overflow Incontinence: No matter how much liquid you consume, you’re constantly leaking
With this type of incontinence, your bladder never fully empties. Typically, this is caused by weak bladder muscles or a blocked urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body). People with blockages in their urethral tubes often have an underlying medical condition such as kidney disease.

• Mixed Incontinence: More than one type of urinary incontinence
A combination of stress incontinence and urge incontinence is a very common example of mixed incontinence. Firstly, you’ll do a body movement or activity that triggers your bladder problems. Then, you’ll feel the sudden urge to pee out of nowhere!

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Taking Back Control: Incontinence exercises, products and treatments

The first step to managing incontinence is accepting that it’s a normal experience — especially for pregnant and postpartum women. From incontinence products to exercises and treatments, you’re bound to find something that alleviates your symptoms.

Incontinence Management

When it comes to managing incontinence, the good news is that there are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make with proven results. It all comes down to a bit of trial and error.

Try out some incontinence exercises and practices that might work for you:

  • Use the toilet on a regular schedule instead of waiting for the urge to go
  • Slowly increase the amount of time between each trip to the bathroom (bladder training)
  • Urinate before doing any physical activities to prevent leakage
  • Only do heavy-lifting if you have someone around to assist you
  • Do Kegel exercises for women (pelvic floor exercises): tensing up your pelvic muscles in short repetitions
  • Drink less caffeine, alcohol and beverages before physical activity or going to bed
  • Wear incontinence products such as Lil-Lets Drylock™ incontinence pads and pantyliners
  • Maintain a healthy weight to put less pressure on the urinary system
  • Relax your urethral sphincter muscles and rectum muscles to fully empty the bladder (urine voiding)
  • We recommend starting with 2 or 3 lifestyle changes and working your way up. This will give you time to observe your body and figure out exactly which changes are doing the trick.

Seeking medical treatment for urine incontinence

Beyond the lifestyle changes, there are a few medications out there for incontinence management. Some medications work by stabilising the muscle contractions that cause an overactive bladder, while others relax the bladder muscles so it can empty.

We recommend consulting a healthcare professional if you find that lifestyle changes aren’t helping with incontinence. A doctor or nurse can suggest incontinence medications and products. Many people have noticed a significant improvement in their condition after taking prescribed medications.

In addition, if you have a more serious condition you can undergo a cystoscopy procedure in which a doctor looks inside the bladder using a thin camera called a cystoscope. They’ll look out for any abnormalities that might be causing incontinence. From there, a potential solution is trying new medications or getting a catheter (a thin tube that drains urine out of the body). There are some risk factors associated with catheters, including being more prone to infections. But ultimately, many women with severe incontinence have no regrets.

Ending the stigma: professional incontinence advice

We have let urinary incontinence become a major taboo, especially for adult women. Of course, the feelings of hopelessness, embarrassment and loneliness felt by those with incontinence are valid. Have I peed my pants? Is there a toilet nearby? – these are your constant worries and we’re not here to undermine them.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It starts with spreading awareness, acknowledging the condition, and helping more women feel comfortable using incontinence products and seeking medical attention. Incontinence shouldn’t stop anyone from living their best life – you are not defined by your condition.


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Frequently Asked Questions

How to stop incontinence?

You can stop incontinence by trying out the following methods:

  1. Avoid physical activities that put pressure on the bladder e.g. jumping, bending down
  2. Avoid heavy-lifting without assistance
  3. Drink less fluids, especially caffeine and alcohol (diuretics)
  4. Treat underlying conditions that cause incontinence e.g. constipation
  5. Lose excess weight

What is stress incontinence?

Stress incontinence refers to urine leakage caused by putting the bladder under pressure. It typically occurs when you laugh, cough, sneeze, or engage in physical activity. Typically, the bladder leaks are followed by a sudden and intense urge to use the toilet.

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Can incontinence be cured?

Incontinence can be cured, but it depends on the causes, symptoms and treatment options available. For example, incontinence caused by a chronic disability may never go away. However, bladder weakness can be treated or cured by practising pelvic floor muscle exercises.

Can incontinence cause a UTI?

Incontinence can increase the chances of getting a urinary tract infection (UTI) due to the residual urine promoting bacterial growth. However, UTIs can easily be treated with water, immune-boosting foods, over-the-counter treatments, or prescribed medication.

How incontinence affects life?

Incontinence can affect one’s life in multiple ways, including social isolation and changes to your overall lifestyle. For example, someone who experiences incontinence might avoid visiting the park for a picnic in case there are no toilets. However, if you learn to manage incontinence, you can still enjoy many of your favourite activities.

How many types of incontinence are there?

There are 5 common types of urinary incontinence experienced by adults across the world. The 5 different types of incontinence include:

  • Stress Incontinence
  • Urge Incontinence
  • Overflow Incontinence
  • Functional Incontinence
  • Mixed Incontinence

What is the main cause of incontinence?

The main causes of urinary incontinence depend on which type you have. Incontinence is usually caused by an underlying condition such as urinary tract infections (UTIs), vaginal infections, constipation, or weak pelvic muscles. We recommend consulting a medical professional to identify the main cause of your incontinence.

Why do I have incontinence at night?

If you have incontinence at night, it’s often caused by drinking lots of fluids before bed, bladder obstruction, or sleep disorders. Pads and liners can potentially help you manage night incontinence. However, it depends on how frequent the flow of urine is.

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