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Incontinence describes any involuntary loss of urine from the bladder (urinary incontinence) or faeces or wind from the bowel (faecal/bowel incontinence).  4.8million Australians experience bladder or bowel control issues (Continence Foundation of Australia).  Urinary incontinence affects 13% of Australian men and 37% of Australian women, while faecal incontinence affects 20% of Australian men and 12.9% of Australian women (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2006).

Urinary incontinence can vary from a small leak with a cough or a sneeze to a full loss of bladder control.  Some risk factors associated with urinary incontinence include pregnancy, menopause, obesity, urinary tract infections, following certain types of surgery, constipation, neurological and musculoskeletal conditions, diabetes, stroke and some medications.

Faecal incontinence can vary from loss of wind to involuntary small staining or complete loss of control of bowel motions.  Faecal incontinence can be caused by weakness of the muscles used to control bowel function which can occur following childbirth, in some types of surgery or with ageing. It can also be caused by constipation or severe diarrhoea.

Often incontinence can be prevented by adapting some healthy lifestyle habits which are listed below:

  • Drink well
    • Aim to drink 1.5-2L of fluid each day to help with digestion and bladder/bowel function.
  • Eat well
    • Eat a healthy, fibre rich diet to improve bowel function as it will absorb water and result in bulk bowel motions, making them easier to pass.
  • Pelvic floor exercises
    • Perform daily pelvic floor exercises to help support bladder and bowel function
  • Good toileting habits
    • Particularly while defecating, it is important to adopt correct positioning to aid in the passing of bowel motions. This involves supporting the feet on a platform which will raise knees slightly higher than hips, leaning forward and maintaining a neutral spine posture.
  • Regular exercise
    • Aim for 30 minutes most days to assist with general health and wellbeing and to assist the digestive system.

If you are experiencing any type of incontinence symptoms it is important to know there are ways to help manage and in many cases resolve these issues.  It is very unlikely incontinence will improve without treatment and often may worsen.  Physiotherapists trained in pelvic floor rehabilitation can help assess and treat multiple forms of incontinence issues and can assist in helping with specific pelvic floor muscle training aimed at prevention and management of incontinence.