Incontinence describes any accidental or involuntary loss of:
- urine (wee) from the bladder – known as urinary incontinence
- faeces (poo) or flatus (wind) from the bowel – known as faecal incontinence.
Incontinence can range in severity from a small leak to complete loss of bladder or bowel control.
Incontinence can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, but help is available.
Risk factors commonly linked with urinary incontinence include:
- pregnancy (both pre- and post-natal women)
- younger women who have had children
- urinary tract infections
- specific types of surgery such as prostatectomy (removal of all or part of the prostate) and hysterectomy (removal of all or part of the uterus and/or ovaries)
- reduced mobility preventing you from getting to or using the toilet
- neurological and musculoskeletal conditions such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis
- health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, heart conditions, respiratory conditions, and prostate problems, and
- some medications.
A healthy diet and regular exercise promote good bladder and bowel health
Plenty can be done to improve or in some cases cure incontinence. Changes such as adopting a healthier diet and lifestyle, incorporating regular exercise, and practicing good toilet habits can all lead to improvements.
Visit our prevention page for more information.
Incontinence in Australia
- Over 5 million Australians – 1 in 4 people aged 15 years or over – experience bladder or bowel control problems. This number is predicted to grow to 6.5 million by 2030.
- 80% of people with urinary incontinence are women.
- 1 in 3 women who ever had a baby wet themselves.
- Strong pelvic floor muscles are necessary for bladder and bowel control and good sexual function.
- Pelvic floor muscle exercises have been shown to prevent and treat incontinence at any age.
- Less than 2 out of 10 women (17.6%) do their pelvic floor exercises daily.
- 70% of incontinent people do not seek help.
- Bladder and bowel control problems are not a natural part of ageing or having a baby.
- Incontinence can have long-term physical and emotional impact; affecting self-esteem, motivation and independence.
Think you might have a continence issue?
If you experience bladder or bowel problems, but are not sure if you should seek help, try this quick quiz. If you answer 'yes' to any of these questions you may have a bladder or bowel control problem.
- Do you sometimes feel you have not completely emptied your bladder?
- Do you rush to use the toilet?
- Are you frequently nervous because you think you might lose control of your bladder or bowel?
- Do you wake up twice or more during the night to go to the toilet?
- Do you sometimes leak before you get to the toilet?
- Do you sometimes leak when you lift something heavy, sneeze, cough or laugh?
- Do you sometimes leak when you exercise or play sport?
- Do you sometimes leak when you change from a seated or lying position to a standing position?
- Do you strain to empty your bowel?
- Do you sometimes soil your underwear?
- Do you plan your daily routine around where the nearest toilet is?
If you think you have a continence issue the first step is to talk to your family doctor or contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66. The National Continence Helpline is staffed by Nurse Continence Specialists who offer free and confidential information, advice and support. They can also provide you with a wide range of resources and referrals to local services.