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Incontinence FAQs

Below are answers to your frequently asked questions around incontinence.  We aim to review and update this reqularly.

What is Incontinence?

Incontinence can be described as the uncontrolled leakage of urine or faeces. It can be classed as mild, moderate, or severe. Urinary and faecal incontinence can occur alone or in conjunction with each other.

Is Incontinence Common?

It may be a comfort to know that you are not alone.   Millions of people worldwide suffer from incontinence.   It often goes unreported because sufferers feel too embarrassed to seek help, so it is likely that the actual numbers of people who live with incontinence are much higher than actually reported. Nevertheless, the following figures will give you some idea of the scope and breadth of the problem: 

  • The NHS estimates that around 6 million people in the UK have some degree of urinary incontinence.
  • Up to 35% of people over the age over sixty suffer from some type of urine leak.  As elderly people become bedridden their chances of having to deal with incontinence goes up to over 50%.
  • Of those older people in institutional care, 30-60% are affected by urinary incontinence, and 25% by bowel incontinence.
  • Studies suggest that in the UK “faecal incontinence” affects 2% of the general population with more woman than men being affected and becomes more prevalent with age.
  • 1 in 3 women experience incontinence at some point in their live.
  • 10% of men over 65 experience bladder or bowel problems
  • Research has shown that women are two times as likely to suffer from incontinence than men, largely due to differences in anatomy and the effects of childbirth.

With the right information and support and using the right incontinence pads, incontinence pants, incontinence aids and incontinence products designed to meet your own specific needs for both men and women you can take active steps to manage your incontinence effectively.

Incontinence Types

These are the main types that you should be aware of:

Urinary Incontinence:  woman are twice as likely as men to suffer from urine leak.

Faecal Incontinence:  is the involuntary leakage of faecal material from the back passage. The substance that leaks away may be semi-solid or liquid. This type of incontinence may occur only occasionally or it may be a persistent problem of many years' duration.

Stress Incontinence:  The involuntary leakage of urine that occurs during physical activity.  This the most common type of incontinence and one a lot of women who have had children will relate to. Urine leaks during coughing, sneezing and laughing, when lifting heavy objects or in any sort of exercise that puts pressure on the bladder.

Urge Incontinence: The inability to control the sudden urge to urinate. Patients typically state, "When I have to go, I HAVE to go." They need to find a bathroom right away without delay. Certain things may trigger urge incontinence, such as sound or touch of running water, putting one’s keys in the door upon arriving home, etc.   This is the second most common type of incontinence.

Mixed Incontinence: This refers to a common situation in which one has both stress incontinence and urge incontinence to some degree.

Overflow Incontinence (or Drip): This comes from a failure of the bladder to empty normally. The bladder remains close to full and small amounts of urine leak out almost continuously. Often, the urge to urinate is not present.   This type can be due to a physical obstruction, a common example of this is prostate problems in men.

Functional Incontinence: This is a state in which the bladder is working properly but there are other reasons for an inability to get to a bathroom in time. This may relate to a problem such as advanced Alzheimer's disease, where a person no longer recognizes the need to urinate in a socially acceptable place i.e. a toilet and ignores the message from the bladder. It may also be due to severe mobility restrictions.  In this case the patient would ordinarily have enough warning time from the bladder but, because it takes so long to make it to a bathroom, leakage

Reflex Incontinence: occurs due to spinal or neurological trauma or disease when there is little or no sensation or voluntary control of the bladder.

What can cause incontinence?

If you have noticed that you leak when you cough, laugh or move it's worth talking to your doctor or surgery practice nurse about what to do next. Although bowel and bladder weakness becomes more common as we get older, it is not an inevitable part of ageing. Because bladder weakness is not a distinct disease, it is often difficult to determine a definite cause.

There are a wide variety of reasons why you may experience bladder weakness or faecal incontinence:

  • Weakened Pelvic Floor Muscles - The bladder and outlet passage are supported and held in place by a sling of muscles called pelvic floor muscles that keep the bladder closed. If these muscles lose their strength and/or flexibility (often caused by trauma to the entrance to the bladder, 'pelvic floor' or bowel during childbirth) then even everyday activities such as coughing may cause leaking.  Being overweight can also put an added strain onto pelvic floor muscles.
  • Birth Defect - You may have been born with a defective bladder or sphincter, which means you've always leaked or start to leak once other factors add to the problem.
  • Menopause -With the menopause, due to the reduction in the quantity of oestrogen many women notice that their bladder becomes lax, with leakage of urine.
  • Illness - Kidney or urinary tract infections can cause temporary bladder weakness or incontinence. Severe constipation can also cause these conditions to occur.
  • Nerve Damage - It can be caused by nerve damage, such as spinal cord injury, or with nerve diseases like multiple sclerosis.
  • Other - Surgery, Medications, or an oversensitive bladder can also lead to bladder weakness.

Only a professional trained in these symptoms can truly diagnose and treat your condition. A GP will often refer you to a specialized Continence Advisor for assessment to ensure you receive the right help and treatment to improve your symptoms.

How can I manage my incontinence?

In many cases bladder weakness can be cured. It depends on what has caused your bladder weakness in the first place. A toilet habit training programme, change in diet or regular exercise may be all you need in order to regain control and your confidence. We always recommend you see your GP or local continence advisor so that they can recommend the best course of action.

  • There are also different kinds of medication they may consider to help minimize or manage your condition.
  • If you are using disposable or re-usable pads or underwear then making sure it is comfortable and fits closely to your body is important to minimize any chance of leaks and ensure you feel confident to get on with life.
  • It is a good idea to make sure that getting to the toilet in a hurry is easy and that no obstacles stand in your way.
  • Whatever you do, it is a good idea is to discuss your bladder weakness with your partner. Openly discussing your situation with them will be rewarded by a greater, mutual understanding and, probably a strong sense of relief.

Will one type of incontinence product suit all my needs?

Not necessarily, you might find that you prefer a smaller, thinner incontinence pad during the day but need a larger, more absorbent incontinence pad at night if you experience leakage during the evening. Also, you might find that you prefer the convenience and ease of changing incontinence pads during a normal day but prefer the added leakage security of incontinence pant type products on long days out or special occasions.

What are the benefits of disposable incontinence pads?

The main benefit of disposable incontinence pads is exactly that, they can be thrown away after usage and therefore are extremely hygienic and convenient. This means that it is easy to carry incontinence products around with you enabling you to change them when needed. Used incontinence pads should always be disposed of hygienically and never flushed down toilets. There is a large range of disposable incontinence products available to sort a variety of needs.

What are the benefits of washable incontinence products?

There are a number of benefits of washable incontinence products, primarily that they are more economical over time and environmentally friendly than disposables incontinence products. They can also be easier to store and look and feel similar to normal underwear. However you will probably need a washing machine to wash them fully at high temperature, you will also need several pairs to ensure you have enough at any one time.

How do most disposable incontinence pads work, how are they able to absorb so much?

All our disposable incontinence pads contain “super absorbents” which absorb urine and lock it inside so you are kept dry. It is the amount of super absorbent contained within a product that determines how much it can absorb, not the product’s physical size.

If I find that using one incontinence pad is not sufficient, can I just use two of my current incontinence pads together?

This isn’t a good option as it’s unlikely you will get a good fit to the body doing this and therefore leakage is more likely (if either layering on top or front to back). Also as most incontinence products have a waterproof backing then if products are layered on top of each other then it’s unlikely that any liquid will pass through to the second.

How often should I change my incontinence pad?

Incontinence products are designed to be worn for around 3 - 4 hours.  At night we recommend a higher absorbency product to ensure a good nights sleep.

Many larger incontinence pads have "wetness indicators" that tell you when they need changing, however incontinence pads should be changed regularly even when not wet in order to maintain skin hygiene. Don’t re-use a wet incontinence pad as it is likely to deteriorate more quickly and then cause leakage.

My incontinence pads are often shaped after being folded in their packaging, how do I flatten them so that they fit better to my body?

Try bending the incontinence pad backwards along its length. This should remove some of the creases and straighten the product out. If the product contains side elastics it will often re-tension these so they are able to tighten around your body when applied thus preventing leakage.

How can I tell if my product is suitable for male or female?

Most of our incontinence products are unisex but we do have some products that are specific for men or women.   On all our incontinence pants and pads product pages we highlight if it suitable for Unisex, Male or Female.  Please note all our incontinence products are currently only suitable for adults.

Where do I measure for the size of my pants?
Women, measure around the hips at widest point. Men, round the waist at narrowest point.

Are your incontinence swimwear suitable for people with faecal incontinence?
Yes all our swimwear products is suitable for people with incontinence.

Are there any other ways I can manage my incontinence?

Yes - see our Manage Your Incontinence page for more information.

Can I easily repeat my previous order?
Yes - in order to repeat a previous incontinence product order quickly without having to enter all your details again, simply log in to your personal account and go to Account Maintenance.   Click on any previous order and press the repeat order button.  This will repeat your previous order and all you will need to complete is your billing information again.

Am I entitled to buy incontinence products VAT free?
Most customers are exempt from paying VAT on incontinence products due to the government's tax allowances on medical related products.  Customers who are eligible for VAT exemption are:-

- Personal or domestic use of an incontinent individual

- Purchasing less than 200 disposable pads, 50 washable pads and 10 pairs of waterproof or leak-proof underwear.

As most of our customers are VAT exempt we have aleady deducted the VAT from all the items so the prices you see are what you pay.

We have deducted the VAT from all the items so the prices you see are what you pay.

When first registering your account online with Incontinence UK you will need to complete the VAT self declaration information in accordance with HMRC rules.  Customers ordering via the telephone will be asked to self declare that they are VAT exempt.

Can you send me a regular monthly supply of pads?

Yes. We recommend you do this so you don't run out. To set this up please email us on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call us on 0800 068 3625 and let us know your requirements and we will arrange this for you.