There may be one or two things more mortifying than accidentally peeing your pants, but right now we can’t think of any. In polite medical speak, this is referred to as ‘urinary incontinence’. Around here we prefer the less clinically correct – though perhaps more apt – term ‘bloody nightmare’ to describe occasional bladder leakage! You know what we’re talking about. You cough, sneeze, laugh, run to catch the bus, lift something heavy, jump up and down, whatever, and a small (or large!) amount of urine unexpectedly leaks out. Of course, not only is this embarrassing, it’s also darned inconvenient.
The many types of incontinence
Stress incontinence refers to pressure that’s placed on the bladder in certain situations, such as pregnancy, childbirth or straining to use the loo. It’s not brought on by stress per se, but it can cause it!
Urge incontinence is a strong and sudden need to pee. Sometimes called overactive bladder, it can be caused by conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, that interfere with the brain’s ability to send signals to the bladder. Poor bladder habits can also cause it, but sometimes the reason is simply unknown.
Overflow incontinence is when the bladder doesn’t fully empty. You may feel the need to strain while peeing, or that you still need to pee just after you’ve gone. This can be due to damaged nerves or a blocked urethra.
Functional incontinence happens when a person no longer recognises the need to go to the toilet – this can often be caused by dementia or mobility issues.
Mixed incontinence is, as the name suggests, a combination of more than one type of incontinence problem.
The National Continence Helpline is a free, confidential service where you can chat with a nurse continence advisor for tips or to help find a local specialist. Lines are open Monday to Friday between 8am and 8pm. 1800 33 00 66. Visit continence. org.au for more information.