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What is incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is involuntary urination, or the loss of bladder control.

It affects approximately a third of women, and is more likely to as you get older.

What are the symptoms of incontinence?

There are four main types of incontinence:

  • Stress incontinence – when your bladder and pelvic floor muscles can’t prevent loss of urine when under pressure (e.g. when you cough or sneeze)
  • Urge incontinence – when you feel a sudden and intense need to urinate and you can’t delay going to the toilet
  • Overflow incontinence – when your bladder can’t empty itself completely
  • Total incontinence – when your bladder cannot store any urine at all, which may cause you to pass large or small amounts of urine constantly

What causes incontinence?

Certain things can increase your risk of developing incontinence such as:

  • pregnancy and vaginal birth
  • obesity
  • family history
  • getting older.

When should I talk to a GP?

If you’re struggling with incontinence, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed to speak to a GP – it’s a very common problem that can affect your everyday life.

It can be useful to keep a diary of your symptoms in the lead up to your appointment.

A GP will ask you about your symptoms and may do an examination, which could involve getting undressed from the waist down and having your vagina looked at, before diagnosing you and suggesting treatments.

What treatments are available?

First, your doctor may recommend treatments such as:

  • changing your diet and maintaining a healthy weight
  • pelvic floor muscle training such as kegel exercises
  • bladder training techniques
  • one of a variety of medicines, usually tablets.

If these aren’t effective, your doctor may recommend one of many available surgical procedures and refer you to a specialist.

What else can help?

Products and devices can help with symptoms, including:

  • pads and pants
  • special clothing
  • bed and chair protection.

You should avoid using sanitary pads as they aren’t designed to help with incontinence.

Find more in-depth information about symptoms and treatment:

Visit the NHS website