Incontinence: Separating Fact from Fiction

According to Dr Hilary Jones, urinary incontinence is one of society’s final remaining health taboos, with embarrassment preventing those suffering from the condition from seeking treatment. We separate the facts from fiction to provide a guide on what you need to know about incontinence.

Urinary incontinence remains one of the last great health taboos in modern society, however, Dr Hilary stresses that it’s a taboo that needs to be broken. The condition is surprisingly common, and the Bladder and Bowel Foundation estimates that one in four of us will experience urinary incontinence at some point in our lives. However, embarrassment prevents many people suffering from incontinence symptoms to seek the medical help they need.

Urinary incontinence is the unintentional passing of urine, however, the symptoms of the condition depend on the kind of incontinence you have.

  • Stress incontinence is when you leak urine after sneezing, laughing, coughing or doing exercise. It occurs when the pelvic floor muscles around the bladder become slack.
  • Urge incontinence is when you have a sudden urge to visit the bathroom and are unable to hold it in. Often, this kind of incontinence is triggered by a condition known as ‘overactive bladder’, when the bladder wants to empty itself of urine even if it isn’t full.
  • Overflow incontinence is typified by a constant dribble of urine, which often, you may not notice. However, it you are aware of it you will feel the need to visit the bathroom a lot more frequently.

Certain things can increase your chances of developing urinary incontinence, including pregnancy and vaginal birth, obesity, a family history of the problem and increasing age.

Seeking Treatment
As a first step in treating incontinence, your GP may advise making changes to your lifestyle that include losing weight and minimising your caffeine and alcohol intake. Pelvic floor exercises and bladder trained, as taught by a specialist, may also be recommended. You may also find incontinence products such as hand-held urinals and absorbent pads useful.

Busting the Myths

  • While incontinence is often seen as a women’s problem, many men also suffer from the condition.
  • Men are just as likely as women to develop bowel control problems.
  • It is a myth that incontinence only happens to older people. While it’s more likely (although not inevitable) to develop bladder problems as you grow older, symptoms of incontinence can arise at any age.


25 – The percentage of people who are likely to experience symptoms of incontinence at some point during their lifetime.
32 – The percentage of the UK’s female population that experience bladder incontinence.
5 million – Almost five million people in the UK under the age of 24 are predicted to have experienced some kind of bladder control issues.

Dr Hilary Says…
If you are too embarrassed to discuss bladder control issues with your GP, try calling the Bladder and Bowel Foundation’s confidential helpline on 0845 345 0165.

Did You Know?
In the UK, more people have incontinence than those suffering with asthma, diabetes and epilepsy combined.*

SOURCES: *The Bladder and Bowel Foundation, NHS UK.

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