Urinary and bowel incontinence help and advice | ϲֱ쿪

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Incontinence

People of all ages can have a problem controlling their bladder or bowel. It can feel uncomfortable to talk about, but there's nothing to be embarrassed about and you should speak to your doctor if you're at all worried.

We use the terms 'pee' and 'poo' to discuss incontinence on this page. We understand these might not suit everyone, but we've done some research and found that these were the most popular.


What is incontinence?

Incontinence is the inability to control your bladder or bowel.

  • Bowel incontinence is a loss of bowel control, which means you sometimes poo unintentionally.
  • Urinary incontinence is a loss of bladder control, which means you sometimes pee unintentionally.

Are there different types of urinary incontinence?

There are different types of urinary incontinence. The 2 most common types are stress incontinence and urge incontinence.

  • Stress incontinence is a build-up of pressure inside your bladder as it fills, any additional pressure such as sneezing or laughing can cause pee to leak.
  • Urge incontinence is often caused by an overactive bladder, and it means that you need to go to the toilet suddenly and urgently - so you might not reach the toilet in time.

What causes incontinence?

Causes of urinary incontinence

  • weak pelvic floor muscles
  • overactivity of the muscles controlling the bladder
  • changes in the nerves controlling the bladder or pelvic floor
  • enlarged prostate (in men)
  • being overweight
  • damage during childbirth or from surgery
  • some medications
  • some health conditions that impact the brain or nervous system, such as Parkinson's or multiple sclerosis.

Causes of bowel incontinence

  • weak or damaged bowel muscles
  • changes in the nerves controlling the bowel
  • severe or long-lasting diarrhoea
  • severe or long-lasting constipation
  • bowel conditions such as IBS, Chron's disease or piles
  • health conditions such as Parkinson's, stroke or Alzheimer's may lead to bowel incontinence linked to the condition.

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.

What are the symptoms of urinary incontinence?

  • peeing a little when coughing, sneezing, laughing or exercising
  • not being able to get to the toilet in time
  • needing to pee frequently or urgently
  • finding it difficult to start peeing
  • wetting the bed when asleep
  • a feeling that the bladder doesn’t empty completely.

What are the symptoms of bowel incontinence?

  • pooing without meaning to
  • having an urgent need to poo that you can't control
  • having diarrhoea
  • straining or difficulty to poo.

How is incontinence diagnosed?

If you have a problem with your bladder or bowel, talking to a health professional is the best way to get help.

A doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms, identify the cause, and talk to you about what treatment or exercises may help cure or tackle the problem.

A healthcare professional might ask you some questions and do some tests to help them understand how your bladder and bowel work. These can include:

  • a diary of your bladder habits
  • a physical examination to assess your bladder, pelvic floor muscles or prostate
  • a sample of your pee 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 include:

  • exercises to help you strengthen the muscles surrounding the bladder (pelvic floor exercises) or bowel
  • bladder or bowel training
  • medications
  • changes to your diet (for bowel incontinence)
  • 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 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
  • for men, there are a range of products that fit over the penis and collect urine into a bag strapped to the leg.

You can buy most of these in pharmacies and supermarkets, but seek professional advice before using them permanently.

To qualify for free incontinence products provided by the NHS, you’ll need to meet criteria set out by the NHS in the area where you live.

Ask your GP practice about continence services in your area. A specialist nurse may need to assess if you're eligible and will then arrange your supply of products.


What are some tips for living well with incontinence?

There are lots of things you can do to manage your incontinence problems and live well on a day-to-day basis. 

Be prepared

Try thinking of practical solutions to problems that might arise while you’re out. You could take some spare pads and pants with you. Scented bags for soiled pads or pants could be useful if you’re worried about smell.

You may find a toilet card helpful. The  toilet card states clearly that you have a medical condition and that you need to use a toilet urgently. Showing this card can help you avoid the queue for a public toilet.

Take care of your skin

Washing regularly and drying carefully with a soft towel will help to keep your skin healthy. Change pads regularly, using a disposable wipe to remove any residue. If your skin becomes broken, speak with your doctor or a nurse immediately as this could lead to a skin infection.

Change pads frequently to avoid smell

Fresh urine shouldn't smell offensive. If it does, there may be an infection. Good quality pads help to absorb some smell, but always change wet clothes as soon as possible.

The smell from bowel incontinence is more difficult to hide. Change soiled pads as soon as possible and put them in an airtight container or sealed bag.

Stay hydrated

Drink normally, unless your GP or nurse has told you otherwise. You should aim to drink 6-8 cups of liquid each day. Tea, coffee or other caffeinated drinks make your symptoms worse. Drinking too many fizzy drinks, alcoholic drinks, or drinks with artificial sweeteners in them can also irritate the bladder.

Prevent constipation

Constipation (irregular bowel motions) can put pressure on your bladder or bowel and worsen incontinence. Eat plenty of fibre-rich foods (such as fruit and vegetables) and drink plenty of liquid. Keep active and exercise regularly.

Dress for ease

Try to wear clothing with elasticated waists, or fastenings with Velcro instead of zips and buttons as this can make it easier to dress and undress.

Plan before you travel

If you’re going on a long journey with family or friends, and you know you’ll need to use the toilet frequently, let them know beforehand. That way you can identify potential stopping points which will help you feel more in control.

Consider home adaptations

If equipment or home adaptations, such as handrails in the bathroom or a commode, might help with your incontinence, speak to social services. You’re eligible for a free care needs assessment, conducted by your local authority, to find out what help and support you need at home.

Find out more about the care needs assessment

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Last updated: Sep 27 2023

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