Incontinence describes any accidental or involuntary loss of urine from the bladder (urinary incontinence) or faeces or wind from the bowel (faecal incontinence).

Incontinence is a common condition that ranges in severity from 'just a small leak' to complete loss of bladder or bowel control. Incontinence can be treated and managed, and in many cases it can also be cured.


Urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence describes the involuntary loss of urine from the bladder and is a common condition experienced by women.

There are many other causes or risk factors of urinary incontinence, including:

  • pregnancy
  • childbirth
  • menopause
  • conditions such as diabetes, stroke, heart conditions, asthma obesity
  • urinary tract infections
  • constipation
  • surgery such and hysterectomy (removal of all or part of the uterus and/or ovaries)
  • reduced mobility that restricts access to a toilet
  • neurological and musculoskeletal conditions such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis
  • some medications

Urinary incontinence has a range of symptoms:

  • an occasional leak when you laugh, cough or exercise
  • need to go to the toilet urgently
  • need to go to the toilet frequently
  • complete inability to control your bladder

If you are always feeling thirsty as well as having to urinate frequently, talk to your doctor to check that you do not have diabetes.

Urinary incontinence can be managed, treated and often cured. However treatment and management will depend on the cause of urinary continence, so it is important to see your doctor if you have symptoms.

For more information, go to the Continence Foundation of Australia web pages - What is incontinence? and Who's at risk? and see the Women's Health Queensland Wide Urinary incontinence fact sheet.


Faecal incontinence

Faecal incontinence is a term used to describe leakage from the bowel due to poor bowel control. You may also find you have excessive wind or experience staining of your underwear. Poor bowel control can be caused or made worse by a number of things including certain health conditions or medicines taken for other problems.

Factors that can lead to loss of bowel control include:

  • long term straining
  • medications (e.g. antibiotics, medication for diabetes or arthritis)
  • damage to the anal sphincter or pelvis floor muscles (may be caused by heavy lifting, child birth, surgery, chronic coughing or sneezing)
  • diabetes
  • inflammatory bowel disease e.g. ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease
  • a fistula or haemorrhoids
  • nerve disorders resulting from multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy. Stroke, Parkinson's disease
  • severe diarrhoea or constipation

Faecal incontinence has a range of symptoms including:

  • not able to control the passage of wind of faeces
  • not able to make it to the toilet in time
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation
  • having lots of wind and feeling bloated
  • unexplained weight loss
  • pain or bleeding from the anus

Possible treatments include:

  • pelvic floor exercises
  • changes to diet
  • medications (eg., laxatives for constipation)
  • surgery to repairs damage to the rectum or anus

For more information, go to the Australian government's Bladder & Bowel website.