Incontinence awareness

Blog Post

Date: 1 June 2017

Incontinence is not a subject most people like to talk about and most of us avoid talking about it to the extent that we may not even discuss a continence problem with health professionals.

But the condition is surprisingly common and the Continence Foundation of Australia estimates that in Australia alone, more than 4.8 million people experience bladder or bowel control problems – out of a total population of about 23 million. That’s more than 20 per cent of the population who are affected.

Incontinence is the term we use to describe a loss of control over bladder or bowel function. In most cases it is not regarded as life threatening but it certainly can be life alerting through the dramatic impact it has on the lives of sufferers.

It is also important to be aware that incontinence can be a warning sign of some potentially more serious health problems so the advice of a health professional should be sought when the condition first makes its presence known. However, surveys of patients in GP waiting rooms has shown that only 31 per cent of people with incontinence have sought advice and help from a health professional.

To raise awareness of incontinence, and the need for sufferers to seek help, every June a week is dedicated as World Continence Week during which a range of activities is held to bring attention to the condition and help to lift any stigma some people may feel is attached to it.

Understanding exactly the nature of incontinence is the first step.  

Incontinence ranges in severity from what can be described as ‘a small leak' to what can be a complete loss of bladder or bowel control. However it is important to realise that with help it usually can be treated and managed, and in many cases it can also be cured.

The condition manifests itself in different ways and some of the signs of poor or weak bladder and loss of urine control include:

  • frequency – wanting to go to the toilet frequently;
  • nocturia – waking up to go to the toilet more than twice at night;
  • urgency – sudden urges to go to the toilet;
  • involuntary or unintentional loss of urine from the bladder – wetting yourself or wetting the bed.

Some of the factors which increase the risk of continence include menopause, pregnancy, childbirth, already having had children, being overweight, and suffering from urinary tract infections.

Women are much more likely to be affected by incontinence than men, and the survey of patients in GP waiting rooms showed that 65% of women and 30% of men had some type of urinary incontinence.

Not surprisingly, men are less likely to do anything about it.

In men, incontinence can be related to prostate problems and related prostate gland enlargement is often the cause. About 60 per cent of men are affected by incontinence after prostate cancer surgery.  Other medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity, constipation and chronic cough can cause or aggravate continence problems.  

Significantly, incontinence is not just an old and elderly person’s condition – it can happen to anyone at any age during their lives. Ageing does, however, play a big part and as we get older incontinence certainly becomes more prevalent and more severe.

In addition, some age-related conditions including stroke, dementia, Parkinson’s disease or simply impaired mobility, can increase the risk of incontinence.  For instance, research shows more than half of all residents in nursing homes – both men and women – have bladder control problems.

Sufferers can help to reduce the impact of incontinence by following some simple steps and making lifestyle changes. Make sure you drink enough to stop becoming thirsty, but try to reduce your intake of drinks that have caffeine in them – coffee, tea and some soft drinks. Also, limit your alcohol intake and don’t smoke. Keeping your weight at a healthy level is important, as is eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and grains.

Many community pharmacies now have dedicated sections of products and services to help manage incontinence and the staff are trained to help sufferers select the most appropriate treatment for individual needs.  Private counselling rooms are often available to help avoid any embarrassment when discussing the condition.

Contact: Charlotte Walkling

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Page last updated 30 January 2018