Whether you are trying to prevent incontinence or want to know how to take the first steps towards reclaiming your continence, this handy guide is for you.
What is incontinence?
Incontinence is the accidental leakage of urine or faeces. Over four million Australians are affected by incontinence – almost one fifth of the population. Incontinence can occur in both men and women of any age. In many cases incontinence can be prevented. You don’t need to feel embarrassed about seeking help – it is a common problem which your GP is well equipped to deal with. If you are at all concerned about your toilet habits you should make a time to see your doctor.
Symptoms of incontinence
- Accidental leakage of urine or faeces
- Having trouble getting to the toilet on time
- Passing small amounts of urine many times per day
- Having to get out of bed multiple times during the night to pass urine
- Difficulty starting to urinate
- A urine stream which stops and starts
- A burning or stinging sensation when you urinate
- Feeling like your bladder is not empty after urinating
- Sudden onset of bedwetting
- Chronic constipation
If you have any of these symptoms then you should talk to your doctor.
How can I prevent incontinence?
There are a few steps you can take to prevent incontinence. Drinking enough liquid will stop you from becoming dehydrated. Dehydration can cause constipation or bladder irritation. Your liquid doesn’t have to be in the form of water (although this is the healthiest option). You can also drink fruit juice, tea, coffee, milk or soup. If you are having bladder trouble it is best to avoid carbonated drinks, alcohol, tea and coffee as these can cause bladder irritation.
It is also important to eat a high-fibre diet. Eating enough fibre helps to keep your bowels in good condition, which is the best way to prevent against faecal incontinence. Wholegrain cereals such as porridge, fruit and vegetables are all great ways to introduce fibre in your diet.
Being physically active is another way to prevent against incontinence. Physical activity helps to prevent constipation because it activates the muscles around your bowel and pelvic floor, keeping them in good shape. These muscles control your bladder and bowel movements, so it’s important to keep them working well.
Having good toilet habits is probably the easiest way to remain continent. Go to the toilet only when your bladder is full, but don’t try to hold on, either. Take your time – it is best to let the urine flow at its own pace, without using your pelvic floor muscles to push it out. If you need to pass a bowel motion, don’t wait, as this can cause constipation. Don’t strain when passing a bowel motion – give yourself plenty of time. If you are having trouble try getting into a better position – lean forward with your elbows on your knees and your feet up on a footstool.
It is also important to remember that laxatives are not a long-term solution when treating constipation – you need to change your diet and lifestyle rather than relying on medication.
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Taking the first step back to continence
If you are suffering from incontinence, or have any concerns about your toilet habits, the best place to start is by talking to your doctor. You could also make an appointment to speak with a continence nurse advisor or a women’s health or pelvic floor physiotherapist. You can get the details of these professionals by calling the National Continence Helpline 1800 33 00 66.
To prepare for any appointment, write down as much information as possible. This will stop you from forgetting an important point during the consultation. You might like to think about:
- Your symptoms
- How often they occur
- Whether you have trouble during specific times, such as daytime, night-time, during exercise, when laughing, etc.
- Food or beverages which you feel make your symptoms worse
- Any medications you are taking
You might also like to prepare a list of questions for your doctor or health professional. No question is silly – if it’s concerning you, then ask. Your doctor will have heard it all before. Some questions you might like to ask:
- What is causing the incontinence?
- Is it possible to treat or cure it?
- What are the treatment options available?
- Do I need further tests?
- Are there any risks associated with the treatment options?
- Are there products I can use to help with the symptoms until the treatment takes effect?
- Am I eligible to receive any financial help to cover the cost of continence products?
To find out more about continence, visit the Continence Foundation of Australia website, or call the helpline on 1800 33 00 66.