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Txt: Understanding Different Types of Incontinence. Sheela logo. Two bladders with arrows indicating different types of incontinence.

Understanding Different Types of Incontinence

Jul 04, 2023

Did you know that there are lots of different types of incontinence?

Put simply, incontinence is the involuntary loss of bladder or bowel control which results in the accidental release of urine (wee) or faeces (poo). It is a complex condition and there are lots of different reasons why someone might develop symptoms, one of which is pelvic floor issues. Incontinence can affect anyone of any gender at any age.

 It is incredibly common but not normal and that means that in most circumstances, there are ways to prevent, manage and treat incontinence at every age. 

Incontinence can be anything from a dribble to a full flow and can happen occasionally or more frequently. 

Whatever incontinence looks like for you, it can cause anxiety and get in the way of you living your life the way you want to. 

That’s why if you’re suffering from incontinence, you deserve to get the support you need to overcome your symptoms. 

We recommend you visit your GP or a Women’s Health Physiotherapist who can assess you and come up with a treatment plan tailored to your individual needs. 

There are a number of different types of incontinence and which type is affecting you will determine what kind of solutions might work for your unique circumstances.

There are 5 main types of urinary (wee) incontinence. 

Faecal (poo) incontinence will be discussed in a future post. 

1. Stress Incontinence:

Stress incontinence occurs when physical activities, such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, or exercising, exert pressure on the bladder.  These activities increase pressure inside the tummy and push down on the bladder. The pelvic floor muscles can’t contract strongly or quickly enough to oppose this pressure so a leak occurs. 

It is extremely common in women, especially after childbirth or during menopause when the pelvic floor muscles weaken due to lower oestrogen levels. Symptoms can also be worse around the time of your period due to a drop in oestrogen levels which happens at this point in your menstrual cycle.

It is also linked to obesity which holds the muscles in a stretched position so they can’t contract as effectively. 

Pelvic floor exercises or exercises which focus on core and pelvic floor strength like yoga and pilates are recommended for stress incontinence. Some women may also benefit by taking oestrogen either as a tablet or as a topical cream or pessary.

2. Urge Incontinence:

Urge incontinence is also known as ‘overactive bladder’. It is characterised by a sudden and intense urge to wee, followed by leaking. 

This type of incontinence often results from an overactive detrusor muscle, which controls the bladder's contraction. It can be triggered by certain stimuli such as running water, putting your keys in the front door, or even a simple touch. 

Behavioural therapies, medications, and bladder training techniques are commonly used to manage urge incontinence effectively

3. Overflow Incontinence:  

Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder doesn't empty completely, leading to the continuous dribbling or leakage of urine. 

People with this type of incontinence may experience weak bladder muscles, blockage in the urinary tract, or nerve damage. 

It is more common in men due to conditions like an enlarged prostate gland. 

Treatment approaches involve addressing the underlying cause, such as catheterisation, medication, or surgical intervention.

4. Functional Incontinence:

Functional incontinence refers to the inability to reach the bathroom in time due to physical or cognitive impairments. 

It is often associated with conditions such as arthritis, Parkinson's disease, dementia, or mobility issues. 

Enhancing accessibility to bathrooms, assistive devices, and caregiver support can help people with functional incontinence maintain their independence and dignity

5. Mixed Incontinence:

Mixed incontinence is a combination of two or more types of incontinence, often involving stress and urge incontinence. 

It is relatively common and, like most pelvic floor issues, requires a personalised treatment approach that addresses the symptoms of both types involved.

6. Nocturia:

Nocturia is when you wake at night because you need to wee. It is a common problem that gets more common as we get older. 

There are a number of strategies that can help with this. 

Improving pelvic floor muscle tone, resting your legs up during the day, managing your fluid intake late at night, and reviewing any medication you might be taking can all help improve things. 

Incontinence can significantly impact quality of life, self-esteem, and emotional well-being. 

Understanding the different types of incontinence can help manage symptoms and seek appropriate help. 

However you experience incontinence, there are numerous treatment options available, including lifestyle modifications, pelvic floor exercises, medications, and surgical interventions. 

If you or someone you know experiences incontinence, do not hesitate to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalised treatment plan. 

If you need help managing your symptoms while you work on finding your appropriate solutions, check out our articles on pads, pants and compression garments or download our FREE guide to lifestyle changes to support lifelong pelvic floor health. 

For more accessible, practical content like this, follow us on Instagram ( and YouTube (@sheelawomen). 

Lastly, if there is a woman out there you think might need to hear any of this, please share. Pelvic floor issues are incredibly common but not normal and that means there are ways to prevent, manage and treat pelvic floor issues at any age.

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