News & Media

06 August 2019

Incontinence and continence problems explained: what we need to know about our bladder and bowel

Does your bladder or bowel sometimes leak when you laugh, sneeze, cough, jump or exercise? Do you often get nervous because you might lose control of your bladder or bowel? Do you wake up twice or more during the night to go to the toilet? Do you plan your daily routine around where the nearest toilet is?

Male and female bathroom sign

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you might have a bowel or bladder problem. This may be confronting, but you’re not alone, as an estimated one in four people experience continence issues.

Our Continence Nurse Advisor, Patricia Cronin, has broken the basics down for you, including what you can do to improve, manage and even cure your toilet habits.

First things first, what are we talking about?

Incontinence is the medical term for accidental leakage of the bladder or bowel. Continence problems include needing to go to the toilet urgently and frequently, straining when we do or feeling like we haven’t emptied our bladder or bowels completely.

Many people think bowel and bladder problems are a normal part of ageing or recovery after giving birth. They might be common, but are certainly not normal. Luckily, you can still lead a high quality and social life.

Common signs and symptoms

If you experience incontinence and continence problems, your bladder or bowels are telling you that something’s not quite right. Pelvic floor muscle weakness, nerve damage or other health problems might be the cause.

Symptoms vary from person to person, but can include:

  • accidentally leaking urine or faeces and unable to control when this happens
    • this can occur when you cough, sneeze, jump or laugh, or when you pass wind
  • rushing to the toilet with urgency, quite often
  • poor urine flow
  • straining to empty the bladder or bowels
  • wetting the bed when asleep, or waking at least twice a night to go to the toilet

You might feel a bit embarrassed or reluctant to talk about it, but it’s important to speak to your doctor so you can get to the bottom of the problem and sort it out.

Toilet roll on holder

What can we do about it?

Healthy habits can help you avoid incontinence and continence problems, and manage or cure current issues.

Your GP or health professional can formulate an individualised incontinence management plan for you. More generally though, leading a healthy lifestyle and getting your pelvic floor workout in each day can do you and your bowels/bladder a lot of good.

We recommend:

  • Drinking plenty of water (six to eight glasses a day unless your GP advises otherwise)
  • Eating lots of fibrous food, like fruit, veggies and wholegrain foods
  • Exercising at least 30 minutes every day
  • Strengthening your pelvic floor
  • Practising good toilet habits

Don’t be shy

Call the free National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 for confidential information, local referrals and resources.

Visit for more information, flyers, brochures and fact sheets to help you regain control.

If you are concerned about your pelvic floor, bowel or bladder, speak to your GP, pelvic physiotherapist or continence specialist.