“Spending a penny” is a natural part of everyday living, but controlling one’s bladder can sometimes be problematical. Incontinence is the unintentional passing of urine and affects around one in four people, both men and women, young and old. Despite it being so common there’s a huge stigma around incontinence with almost half of sufferers waiting at least five years before they get help.

Stress incontinence is one of the several types of urinary incontinence, where urine leaks out at times when the bladder is under pressure, such as when you cough or laugh. Urge incontinence is when urine leaks when you have a sudden, intense urge to pass urine, or soon afterwards. Over flow incontinence, chronic urinary retention is an inability to fully empty the bladder causing frequent leaking. In total incontinence the bladder can’t store any urine at all, causing a constant passing or frequent leaking. Symptoms can be improved, and sometimes cured, with simple methods, however if the incontinence problems last for more than a few weeks seek medical opinion to rule out conditions such as diabetes. Your GP will decide which type of incontinence you have and give advice on controlling the symptoms to sort out the problem and improve the quality of life, such as pelvic floor exercises and bladder retraining or provide treatment for your incontinence with prescribed medicines.

If lifestyle changes and treatments don’t solve the problem, your GP can refer you to a continence adviser or specialist. Incontinence physiotherapists who work alongside them, are particularly good at teaching pelvic floor exercises to women with sudden leaks (stress incontinence). For women with regular urges to “spend a penny” (urge incontinence) they can provide bladder training.

Or, they may suggest pelvic floor-strengthening devices such as vaginal cones, and continence pads and products. For mild to moderate incontinence thin, discrete pads are available to attach to your underwear which can make life easier if you’re waiting for a diagnosis or for a treatment to work.

Continence clinics often based in hospitals or health centres have specialist teams providing support and medical advice for people with bladder or bowel incontinence. Or you may be referred to a hospital urologist or uro-gynaecologist for tests and possible incontinence surgery.

The charity Bladder and Bowel UK gives independent advice on products that can help manage bladder and bowel problems. Call their confidential helpline on 0161 607 8219 or visit the Bladder and Bowel UK website.

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