Friday 29th April 2022

This article was written by the Medirite editorial team on Friday 29th April 2022. 

Incontinence is a widespread issue for many millions of people in the UK. It is most commonly associated with aging, but it can occur at any time of life. At Medirite, we supply a range of incontinence aids that make managing the condition easier, more comfortable and more hygienic.

What is incontinence?

Incontinence is a medical condition that causes an involuntary release or loss of urine or faeces. Incontinence affects people in different ways and there are two types of incontinence: urinary and faecal incontinence.

● Urinary incontinence is the passing of urine unintentionally from the bladder. It can take the form of small leaks or the passing of larger amounts of urine, when awake or during sleep.

● Faecal incontinence is the involuntary passing of loose, watery stools (diarrhoea) or firmer poo from the bowel. Leaking faeces can follow the passing of wind, or happen at any time.

Bowel incontinence is an alternative term for faecal incontinence.

How many people are affected by incontinence?

Urinary incontinence affects around 5% to 10% of the UK population, with women accounting for roughly twice as many cases as men. While incontinence is frequently reported to doctors, a large number of sufferers prefer not to seek medical help, so absolutely accurate figures are hard to establish. Faecal incontinence affects around 1.4% of the population.

What are the causes of incontinence?

Incontinence is caused by underlying medical conditions and a variety of factors such as diet, being overweight, family history and age. Pregnancy and the menopause also give rise to incontinence.

There are four main types of incontinence, described below.

Stress incontinence

Pressure builds in the bladder as it fills with urine. Your urethra is the tube which urine passes through, and if it is not strong enough to contain the pressure in your bladder, you will involuntarily pass urine. The muscles which keep your urethra closed, and your pelvic muscle, may be weakened.

Muscle weakness can be the result of
● damage in vaginal childbirth (does not occur if your baby was delivered by caesarean section)
● pressure on your stomach from pregnancy or being overweight
● damage from surgery on or near your bladder
● conditions such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis
● medication

Stress incontinence can also be prompted by coughing, laughing and sneezing, and by physical exercise including heavy lifting.

Urge incontinence

Muscle issues in the bladder may be the cause of urgently needing to pee. The bladder wall features detrusor muscles which relax to let the bladder fill, and contract when it is empties. When the muscles are overactive and contract too frequently, they create the urge to pass urine. This may happen because of
● drinking too much caffeine or alcohol
● not drinking enough fluids, which concentrates the urine a and causes irritation
● infections in urethra and bladder, known as urinary tract infections (UTIs)
● neurological conditions
● medicines

Urge incontinence can occur due to a sudden change of position, or when you are near a running tap. It falls within the category of overactive bladder syndrome, and can result in multiple trips to the loo during the night.

Mixed incontinence

You might suffer from a combination of stress and urge incontinence, a condition referred to as mixed incontinence.

Overflow incontinence

If there is an obstruction in your bladder, it can stop your bladder from completely emptying. Pressure in the bladder from the remaining urine can make you want to pee repeatedly and may leak out. Obstructions can be from an enlarged prostate gland for men, bladder stones or constipation.

Total incontinence

Constantly passing urine is known as total incontinence, and can be caused by bladder problems from birth, spinal injuries or a fistula – a small hole in the bladder.

Incontinence and pregnancy

The extra weight that comes with being pregnant inevitably places extra pressure on the bladder, and hormonal changes also affect the strength of the pelvic floor muscles. During pregnancy, it is certainly not unusual to need extra trips to the loo. Giving birth itself can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, and a spell of urinary incontinence can follow. If it persists, it’s definitely worth seeking advice from a midwife or GP.

How do I deal with incontinence?

Awareness of incontinence grows with realising how often you need to pee and how well you can control the need to do so. Once you are no longer comfortable with your bladder control, it is time to take steps. There are a number of straightforward things you can do which may improve your situation.

➔ Pelvic floor exercises for incontinence
➔ Stop smoking to improve incontinence symptoms
➔ Strengthening exercises for incontinence
➔ Avoid lifting heavy objects
➔ Weight loss can improve incontinence symptoms
➔ Treat constipation symptoms
➔ Reduce consumption of coffee and caffeinated beverages
➔ Limit alcohol and sugary beverages
➔ Increase water intake
➔ Avoid spicy foods

Do pelvic floor exercises

The pelvic floor runs from the pubic bone to the tailbone or coccyx. It supports your bladder, and the womb in women. If the pelvic floor muscles are weak, bladder control becomes more difficult. Simple, daily exercises can strengthen your pelvic floor and help you control your pee.

Don’t smoke

Smoking is to be avoided for multiple health reasons, and its effect on incontinence is through the fact that it makes people cough. Coughing puts strain on pelvic floor muscles, and can make you want to pee.

Do strengthening exercises

Try to take exercises which strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Pilates is effective, as are some yoga exercises, but while high impact exercises such as running and aerobics are excellent for fitness, they are not well suited to strengthening core muscles including your pelvic floor muscles.

Avoid lifting anything heavy

Lifting heavy objects such as big bags of shopping or a child can put strain on your pelvic floor.

Lose weight

Excess weight comes from fatty tissue which places pressure on your pelvic floor. Losing weight will help to relieve the pressure and help bladder control.

Treat constipation

Straining to poo can weaken the pelvic floor, so it is important to treat constipation by diet or medication as promptly as you can.

Drink less coffee

Unfortunately for coffee lovers, caffeine irritates the bladder and increases the urge to pee. Caffeine is also present in a lot of energy drinks, and fizzy drinks such as Coke. If you’re suffering from urinary incontinence, caffeine-free options can help to relieve your symptoms.

Cut down on alcohol

Alcohol is a diuretic, and reducing consumption can result in a significant reduction in the number and urgency of trips to the loo.

Drink water

Most people should drink 6 to 8 glasses of water every day. If your fluid intake is too low, your bladder capacity reduces, and you are also more likely to experience constipation.

Avoid spicy food

Strong spices and sharp citrus fruit irritate the bladder, so try and cut down or avoid dishes which use them.

Taking steps when you first experience incontinence can help you to keep symptoms in check or even to reverse them. You may not see immediate results – pelvic floor exercises for example can take 3 to 6 months to have an effect – but certain things like cutting out coffee can make a noticeable difference much more quickly.

When should I speak to a doctor about incontinence?

Speaking about incontinence can be embarrassing, but GPs have heard everything before! If incontinence issues are having an impact on your daily life, then it is much better to deal with them than ignore them. Incontinence can be embarrassing in company, and awkward for trips out of the home, and if you are limiting what you do, advice from a GP is very important.

If you are in constant discomfort or pain in the bladder or bowel areas, a trip to the doctor is essential. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the more effective treatment can be.

How can I manage incontinence?

Aside from the steps outlined above, a range of products can make living with incontinence much easier. The first priority is usually to find a way of living with the inconvenience of incontinence by dealing with leakages in public places. A wide range of discreet, disposable pads and pants are available which can be almost indistinguishable from regular underwear.

The key function of pads and pants for incontinence issues is to absorb any urine which is passed involuntarily. The range of shapes and fits offers comfortable options for people of all shapes and sizes, and different absorbency levels are able to deal with minor and major leakages. Disposable bed pads add a further way of dealing with incontinence during sleep, or for bed-bound sufferers.

Need more information about incontinence? Here’s the top questions experts are asked by patients

What are the four types of incontinence?

Incontinence falls into four categories which have different causes and effects. Click the links for more information.
Stress incontinence
Urge incontinence
Overflow incontinence
Total incontinence

Can incontinence be cured?

Various approaches to exercise and diet can relieve the discomfort of incontinence, and bring back effective bladder control. It is not always possible to do so if the underlying reasons for the condition are deeper within the sufferer’s body, and if symptoms persist a medical diagnosis is the next step to take.

Is incontinence a normal part of aging?

Part of the aging process is a decline in muscle strength. Incontinence is not inevitable in old age, but where it does arise it can be contained or fended off through diet, exercise and an all-round healthy lifestyle. Research shows that the occurrence of incontinence increases for women over the age of 50, partly due to the menopause.

Among the changes in the body as it ages is a reduction in the size of the bladder, which for obvious reasons can result in needing more frequent visits to the loo. For older people who also have a loss of muscle control, the result can be incontinence. Overall, for the entire population, the incidence of incontinence increases with age, and by the age of 80 it is a familiar issue for a large part of the population.

How can I stop incontinence?

A healthy lifestyle is the key to holding back incontinence. The right approach to exercise and what you eat and drink can greatly reduce your chances of becoming incontinent. However, a range of medical conditions can result in incontinence, as can injury. Remedial steps on exercise and diet are usually to be advised, and incontinence products can be an invaluable aid to living life in a perfectly normal way.

Is incontinence different for women and men?

Incontinence is a common issue across men and women, with issues for all on muscular control of the bladder, urinary tract and bowel. The biological differences between women and men create different incontinence scenarios. For women, pregnancy and childbirth can result in temporary or longer lasting incontinence, and the menopause is a further issue. A specific issue for men is an enlarged or cancerous prostate gland which can result in incontinence.

See incontinence products from Medirite which can make a real difference in living with incontinence.

Sign up for our newsletter

We only use your email address to add you to our mailing list for receiving our newsletters(monthly). This information is only kept in our mailing list and not for any other purposes than for contacting you with our newsletters.

Thank you for subscribing to the Medirite mailing list.