Health Facts 101: Guide to Understanding What is Incontinence?

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Incontinence affects over 5 million adults in Australia. The severity of the condition can range from mild to debilitating.

Yet with taboo and misconception surrounding incontinence, people are reluctant to seek help. There’s no need to suffer in silence. There are ways to manage the condition and improve your quality of life. 

If you’re concerned that you or a loved one may be incontinent, fear not. Read on to learn ‘what does incontinent mean’, and the options available to you.

What Does Incontinent Mean?

Incontinence takes two different forms, which can be experienced separately or together. Urinary incontinence is the involuntary release of urine from the bladder. Faecal or bowl incontinence refers to the accidental release of gas or faeces from the bowel.

These conditions can vary in severity, from a small leak, to total loss of bowel or bladder control. 

Urinary Incontinence

Also referred to as poor bladder control, urinary incontinence is a common condition. It’s often associated with chronic conditions like diabetes, arthritis and asthma. 

Urinary incontinence commonly affects women as a result of reproductive processes. These can include things like pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause

You may experience poor bladder control from things like coughing, laughing or exercising. This could be a small leak or a total emptying of the bladder. 
You might also feel the need to frequently or urgently go to the bathroom. 

Types of Urinary Incontinence 

Urinary Incontinence can be classified in different ways. The following are the most common:

  • Functional incontinence – this can be caused by mental or physical problems, for example Parkinson’s or Dementia. These conditions can prevent the sufferer from getting to the bathroom in time.
  • Stress incontinence – caused by increased pressure on your bladder. This can be through things like exercise, laughing, lifting heavy objects, sneezing and coughing. This is particularly common in women who have been pregnant. 
  • Urge incontinence – this is the sensation of suddenly needing to urinate and perhaps not making it to the bathroom in time. Also known as Overactive Bladder, it can be caused by damage to parts of the urinary system. If you find that you have to go to the bathroom more than once during the night, or more than eight times during the day, you may have urge incontinence. 
  • Chronic retention associated incontinence – this is the inability to fully empty the bladder. This can lead to leaks of urine. 

Causes of Urinary Incontinence

As the types of urinary incontinence are varied, their causes are also varied. More commonly, urinary incontinence is caused by things like:

  • Pregnancy and childbirth. Carrying and birthing a baby puts a strain on ligaments, muscles, and nerves in the pelvic area.
  • Urinary Tract Infections. These types of infections can irritate the bladder and associated systems. This can lead to an increased need to urinate. 
  • Prostate Issues. Men who have an enlarged prostate or have had surgery on this area are more likely to suffer from incontinence. 
  • Menopause. In women, estrogen helps to keep the organs in the abdominal and pelvic areas healthy. When the estrogen levels drop during menopause, incontinence is more likely to occur.
  • Weight issues. Being overweight can put extra pressure on your urinary system, meaning less control over your bladder. 
  • Medical Issues. Conditions like Parkinson’s, MS and diabetes can all damage the muscles and nerves near the bladder. In some people, anxiety can also be a cause of incontinence 
  • Medication. Some prescribed medications may cause or worsen incontinence. Speak to your doctor about your prescriptions if you’re concerned about this.

Managing Urinary Incontinence

If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, you may be wondering how to stop incontinence. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be experiencing urinary incontinence. They will be able to identify your condition and help you to manage your symptoms. The following types of treatment may be offered:

  • Bladder training. Training your body to wait longer between visits to the bathroom can strengthen muscles and help you to regain control
  • Surgery. If other treatments haven’t help and your symptoms are severe, you may be offered a sling procedure. This is when a small piece of mesh is inserted to support your bladder
  • Medication. If your incontinence is caused by muscle spasms, medication may help to relax the muscles and nerves. You may also consider botox injections to calm the bladder. 
  • Healthy Living. Exercise, a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water are all recommended to reduce the risk of urinary incontinence. Quitting smoking is also associated with a reduced risk of incontinence. 

Faecal Incontinence

If you have faecal incontinence, you will experience difficulty in controlling your bowels. This might mean that you release gas unintentionally, or find stains in your underwear. It can also be experienced as passing faecal matter at the wrong time or place. 

Around 5% of people struggle with poor bowel control. Although it’s more common in older people, younger people can also be affected. Those who do have faecal incontinence are also more likely to have poor bladder control. 

There are many things which could cause faecal incontinence. The most common are:

  • severe diarrhea
  • constipation
  • weakened digestive muscles cause by aging, surgery or childbirth. 

Managing Bowel or Faecal Incontinence

You will probably find that your doctor offers similar treatments to those of urinary incontinence. For example, medication, surgery, bowel training exercises and lifestyle changes.

The Bottom Line

If you have been wondering ‘what does incontinent mean’, this guide should have helped to answer your questions. If you’re concerned about the wellbeing of yourself or a loved one, seek advice from your doctor.

Incontinence issues are common and should not be a cause of shame. There are options out there to help manage, if not cure, the condition. 

If you know of any other treatments for incontinence which we’ve not mentioned, let us know!