elderly ladies with incontinence

Incontinence in Adults: The Facts You Need

If you or a loved one is dealing with urinary incontinence, we’ve put together all the important facts you need. We hope to give you insight, awareness, and strategies for coping with adult urinary incontinence. Check out this post covering the facts on incontinence in children.

If you’re experiencing incontinence as an adult, the first step you should take is to visit your doctor. Here, we’ll cover the most common types and causes, and treatment and lifestyle options for managing it.


Woman saying "incontinence hotline, can you hold please?"


Incontinence in Adults

Urinary incontinence happens when, quite simply, the bladder doesn’t hold and urine leaks. Depending on the type of incontinence, this might be because of damage to the bladder, a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles, a result of a neurological condition, or something else.

Incontinence in adults is a fairly common condition and it can range in severity, from small occasional leaks to a complete loss of bladder control. Incontinence affects around 30% of adults in the United States. The numbers are similar in the UK and Australia. Incontinence is far more common for women than for men, but it can certainly happen to both.


urinary system image


What are the Types of Incontinence in Adults?

Not everyone with adult incontinence experiences it in the same way. It might range in severity from small leaks to the complete loss of a full bladder.

The most common types of incontinence in adults are:

Stress incontinence

If you leak urine when you jump, sneeze, cough, or exert yourself, then you might have stress incontinence. The pelvic floor muscles, the urethral sphincter, or both, may weaken or get damaged, and have a hard time holding urine in under physical stress. This is more common for women than men, especially women who have given birth vaginally. Sometimes stress incontinence is a result of the pressure of a full bladder, though this is more rare.

Urge incontinence

If you develop a sudden, strong urge to urinate, this might be urge incontinence. This is also referred to as an overactive bladder. People who have urge incontinence often can’t reach the bathroom in time, because the urge happens so suddenly.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, an “overactive bladder can result from physical problems that keep your body from halting involuntary bladder muscle contractions.” This might include damage to the brain, spine, or nervous system.

This form of incontinence is more common as people age. Neurological disorders might also result in urge incontinence.

Overflow incontinence

Overflow incontinence describes the condition where the bladder never completely empties, and urine leaks without the feeling or urge to go.

This form of incontinence is more common in men than women, as it’s usually a cause of prostate-related conditions.

Functional incontinence

Functional incontinence refers to cases when the urinary tract functions properly, but something else, an illness or disability, prevents someone from staying dry. They might become unaware or unconcerned by the need to go. It might also affect people who feel the need to go, but have some physical condition that makes it difficult to use the bathroom in time.

Functional incontinence is most common in people with dementia or mental disorders, and can also be caused by medications or arthritis.

Mixed incontinence

Mixed incontinence is a mix of any of the types mentioned, though most commonly someone with mixed incontinence will have a combination of stress and urge incontinence.


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What are the Causes of Incontinence in Adults?

Age, lifestyle, and medical conditions all play a role in whether an adult will be incontinent. Depending on the type of incontinence you have, you might also be able to gauge the cause of it.

The most common causes of incontinence include:

  • Aging and aging related issues
  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Menopause
  • UTIs
  • Medication side effects
  • Damage to the bladder or urinary tract
  • Prostate issues

But don’t just take our word for it. If you’re experiencing incontinence, see your doctor to rule out or treat any underlying medical conditions.


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How Can I Treat and Manage Incontinence in Adults?

Although you can’t usually prevent incontinence on your own, you can begin to treat and manage it. If you’re caring for someone with incontinence, there are things you can do to help them be more comfortable and dry. We discuss this in more detail here.

If you’re the one experiencing incontinence, here are a few tips to help manage it:

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners
  • Do pelvic floor exercises
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Avoid smoking
  • Schedule regular trips to the bathroom
  • Talk to your doctor about medication or surgical treatments that may be right for you.


woman and child playing


Maintaining a Normal Lifestyle with Incontinence

Once you’ve ruled out or begun treating any underlying medical issues, and you’ve adopted some new healthy habits to help manage your incontinence, you can also use products to support your lifestyle.

Knix, Thinx, and a few other companies have created effective leak proof underwear for women. These are made to replace regular underwear, so, just like regular underwear, they come in a variety of colours and shapes and they’re machine washable (although check the labels first).

Additionally, you can get the extra support of a non-invasive leak proof mat to use while you’re sleeping or at rest. The Peapodmat lays flat on your mattress and absorbs up to 6 cups of liquid without leaking!

Thankfully you can manage incontinence and continue living your life without fear of leaks.


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