What is it?

Urinary incontinence is the unintentional passing of urine.

How common is it?

Urinary incontinence is a common problem that is estimated to affect 3 to 6 million people in the UK to some extent.

Who does it affect?

Urinary incontinence affects both men and women, but it tends to be more common in women overall. In women it can be more common among peri-menopausal than pre-menopausal women.

Are there different types of incontinence?

There are several different types of urinary incontinence, but the most common are:-

Stress incontinence
This is usually the result of the weakening or damaging of the muscles used to prevent urination, such as the pelvic floor muscles and the urethral sphincter.

Urge incontinence
This is usually the result of over activity of the muscles which control the bladder.

What causes urinary incontinence?

Certain things can increase the chances of urinary incontinence developing, including:

  • Pregnancy and vaginal birth
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Ageing – although incontinence is not an inevitable part of ageing
  • Menopause – changes caused by the menopause such as weakening of tissue and low levels of the hormone oestrogen
  • Family history of incontinence
  • Long term heavy lifting/manual work
  • Prolonged coughing or sneezing e.g. in smokers, or those with a long term lung condition such as allergy

What can I do about it?

Although it may be embarrassing talking to someone about your symptoms, it's a good idea to see your Doctor or Pharmacist if you have any type of urinary incontinence as they can provide appropriate advice on how to effectively manage the problem. To help with the diagnosis your healthcare professional may suggest you keep a diary to monitor how much fluid you drink and how often you have to go to the toilet.

How can it be treated?

Your Doctor or Pharmacist may suggest some simple measures to see if they help improve your symptoms, such as:-

  • Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and cutting down on caffeine and alcohol
  • Pelvic floor exercises - exercising your pelvic floor muscles by contracting them, you may need guidance from a trained specialist on how to do this
  • Bladder training - learning ways to help you wait longer between needing to go the loo, again you may need special guidance from a specialist on how to do this

Self-help measures

There are a wide range of highly absorbent, hygienic and discreet incontinence products available over the counter. Talk to your Pharmacist or healthcare professional about is most suitable for your needs.

Other options

If you are still unable to manage your symptoms, medication may be recommended and/or surgery may also be considered. The specific procedures suitable for you will depend on the type of incontinence you have. Surgical treatments for stress incontinence are used to reduce pressure on the bladder, or strengthen the muscles that control urination. Operations to treat urge incontinence include enlarging the bladder or implanting a device that stimulates the nerve that controls the detrusor muscles.