What is Incontinence?

Incontinence is the accidental release of urine from the bladder (urinary incontinence) or bowel motion from the bowel (bowel incontinence). Incontinence can affect men and women of any age, not just older people.

Incontinence can often be cured or better managed with the right advice or treatment.

Urinary Incontinence 

Urinary Incontinence refers to the loss of control of your bladder and wetting yourself. The quantity of lost urine ranges from being mildly damp and being soaked.

There are two main types of urinary incontinence.

1. Stress Incontinence 

Stress Incontinence is essentially due to pelvic floor muscle weakness. It is the leakage of urine on exertion, such as coughing, sneezing, laughing or exercising.

Pregnancy, childbirth and menopause are the main contributors to stress incontinence in women. It can worsen in the week leading up to a menstrual period, as lowered oestrogen levels may lead to lower muscular pressure around the urethra. This can increase the chances of leakage. Likewise during menopause, the incidence of stress incontinence increases because of lowered oestrogen levels.

Prostrate surgery can result in stress incontinence in men. It is recommended that men seek help from a health professional.

Other contributing factors to stress incontinence are: obesity, diabetes, chronic cough and constipation.

2. Urge Incontinence 

Urge Incontinence refers to a sudden and strong need to pass urine. With little or no warning, some people wet themselves before they get to the toilet.

Urge incontinence may be caused by poor bladder habits, hormonal changes, medicines, diseases affecting the nervous system, obstruction from an enlarged prostate, urinary tract infection, irritation from bladder stones or other urological problems.

The remaining common types of urinary incontinence are: Overflow Incontinence, Functional Incontinence and Reflex Incontinence.

An incontinence problem will need the careful and sensitive assessment by a qualified health practitioner.



Incontinence is a common health problem.

It is important to seek help from a health professional with continence expertise, as it can often be easily and simply managed.

Adopting healthy diet and lifestyle habits early in life can assist in preventing incontinence.

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Eat a high fibre diet
  • Exercise daily
  • Develop good toilet habits
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices

These healthy habits can also assist in the prevention of a range of health conditions, not to mention improve general health and well being.

For more information, visit the Continence Foundation of Australia's website. See their "Can you prevent it?" page for further elaboration on toileting habits and for information on Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercises.


Who can help?

  • your doctor;
  • National Continence Helpline freecall 1800 33 00 66
  • your community health worker or physiotherapist
  • special continence advisers at hospitals, community health centres, continence clinics or at the Continence Foundation of Australia Resource Centres or branches


Reference List

Continence Foundation of Australia - What is Incontinence?

Continence Foundation of Australia - Can you prevent it?

My Aged Care - caring for someone with incontinence

Australian Government Department of Health - Incontinence

Better Health Channel - Incontinence prevention

Better Health Channel - Incontinence and continence problems

Better Health Channel - Incontinence tips for carers



Continence Foundation of Australia - raising awareness and advocating on behalf of people with bladder and bowel control problems and their carers.

National Continence Helpline - freecall 1800 33 00 66

Mission Australia - where people are in need, Mission Australia seeks to make a powerful, sustainable difference.

For more than 140 years, Mission Australia’s vision has been helping the nation’s most disadvantaged individuals and communities 

out of crisis and into security.

Wesley Mission - Wesley Mission has a real mission - to minister to a community with real needs. 



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