A restroom sign implying incontinence

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Incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine or faeces. In other words, poor bladder and bowel control. It is a major health problem affecting 4.8 million Australians.

Incontinence affects 4.8 million Australians

It still surprises me how many Australians are affected by incontinence. This figure works out to be one person in every four. Many assume poor bladder and bowel control was something that you might experience when you get older, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 71% living in aged care are incontinent. However, of the 4.8 million affected, only 130,000 are in aged care.

Women under 50

Incontinence is not just confined to the elderly. Over half the women who are incontinent are under 50. Yes, under 50, forcing many women in the prime of their lives to deal with incontinence.

More people have urinary than faecal (or fecal) incontinence

4.2 million have urinary incontinence and it’s more common for women than men. In comparison, 1.3 million have faecal incontinence. Again it’s more common amongst women than men with 62% being women. Unfortunately, there are 700,000 who experience both urinary and faecal incontinence.

Urinary incontinence

80% with urinary incontinence are women because they go through pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. Whilst being a male certainly decreases your odds of suffering from incontinence, it is little comfort to the many males that are affected. See this post on urinary incontinence for more details.

What is faecal (fecal) incontinence?

It’s the passing of faeces or wind without control. It can vary from the occasional leakage to the complete loss of bowel control. Bear with me as I use some medical terms to explain:

What causes poor bowel control?


  • Recurring diarrhoea can occur from inflammatory bowel diseases such as crohn’s, ulcerative colitis and coeliac as they may cause scarring in the rectum.
  • Some foods (spicy, fatty/greasy and cured/smoked meats) may cause diarrhoea
  • Drinks containing caffeine or artificial sweeteners can act as laxatives.

Severe constipation

  • Faecal impaction may occur because a person is immobile

Muscle damage or weakness

  • The anal sphincter muscles are the muscles that control our bowel movements.  Ageing, radiation treatment for prostate cancer or childbirth may damage or weaken the sphincter muscles.

Nerve damage

  • The nerves connected to the sphincter muscles need to be intact in order to stimulate the sphincter.  Nerve damage may occur from diabetes, multiple sclerosis, parkinson’s disease, vaginal childbirth or through spinal cord injury.

Some medications

  • For instance, medications taken for diabetes and arthritis as well as too many laxatives taken over a long period of time.


  • Other medical causes of faecal incontinence include haemorrhoids, rectocele, rectal prolapse and rectal cancer.

Urge bowel incontinence

  • This occurs when a person has a strong urge to empty their bowels immediately but are unable to get to the toilet in time.

Functional incontinence

  • When a person’s bladder and bowels are functioning correctly but they are unable to get to the restroom in time. This may be due to several things;  poor eyesight, being in a wheelchair, having advanced alzheimer’s, or the lack of dexterity in undoing buttons or zippers, especially if they suffer from arthritis.

Quality of Life and Self Esteem

Incontinence affects all aspects of a person’s life. Whether at work, shopping, social occasions, or participating in sport and exercise. Besides impacting on their quality of life, it can also affect a person’s emotional and mental health. A person who has nocturnal enuresis,(bed-wetting), or urge bowel incontinence may not want to stay overnight.  If they feel embarrassed and have low self esteem they may even avoid being in a close relationship.

Maybe you have stopped travelling, even though you used to love it. If you are visiting a new place then knowing where the public toilets are can be a constant battle. This toiletmap may help planning your trip a little easier.

Many with incontinence are too embarrassed to speak to their friends and family about their problem. We hope that our post may help you to overcome your feeling of awkwardness in consulting your doctor or health professional. One in four Australians experience incontinence. You are not alone. It is an issue many successfully deal with. If you still feel that you cannot discuss your incontinent problem with your doctor then try calling The National Continence Helpline on 1800 330 066.


Image credit: smaedli


Disclaimer: Please don’t use Dr Google as a substitute for going to a real doctor. This information is a guide only and is not intended to be medical advice. We sell incontinence products to help you manage incontinence, we cannot treat the root cause of incontinence. This can only be treated by your doctor.   



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