Urinary incontinence involves the involuntary leaking of urine. While incontinence itself isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom of another condition and can affect anyone. Most people who live with incontinence do not tell anyone about it. Urinary incontinence is an under-diagnosed and underreported problem that increases with age- affecting 50-84% of the elderly in long-term care facilities and at any age, is more than twice as common in females than in males.


Urinary incontinence affects about 5% of the population, with 8% of females and 3% of males affected respectively. It’s more common in old age and in debilitated patients, but some factors such as stress can cause younger people to suffer from incontinence. Family members might be the ones to bring up the subject, especially if the house is beginning to smell or the furniture is getting soiled.


Types of urinary incontinence


There are generally four types as listed below:


  1. Stress induced: Urine leakage associated with increased abdominal pressure from laughing, sneezing, coughing, climbing stairs, or other physical stressors on the abdominal cavity and, thus, the bladder.


  1. Urge induced: Involuntary leakage accompanied by or immediately preceded by urgency.


  1. Mixed: A combination of stress and urge incontinence, marked by involuntary leakage associated with urgency and also with exertion, effort, sneezing, or coughing.


  1. Functional: The inability to hold urine due to reasons other than neuro-urologic and lower urinary tract dysfunction (e.g., delirium, psychiatric disorders, urinary infection, impaired mobility).


Causes of urinary incontinence


  • For women, thinning and drying of the skin of the vagina or urethra especially after menopause.
  • For men, an enlarged prostrate gland or prostate surgery.
  • Weakened pelvic muscles.
  • Certain medicines.
  • Build up of stool in the bowels.
  • Not being able to move around.
  • Urinary tract infection.
  • Problems such as diabetes or high Calcium levels. 


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How can one cope with incontinence especially at work

Whether you have a job where you spend the day standing, or whether you are in and out of meetings all day, incontinence can be uncomfortable and embarrassing at work.

‘Coping strategies’ play an important role for managing incontinence and include changes in lifestyle, protection, aids, and catheters, whether they are indwelling or intermittent.

For women, with medical advice, they can change concomitant medication that may be exacerbating the problem. Pads used for protection are often unsuitable and some women even wear ‘home-made’ pads in the form of rolled up tissue, commonly to save money. Many different types of pads are available. Catheters should only be used for intractable incontinence and following appropriate investigation. It is essential that all women are assessed and investigated before any form of containment becomes long-term management.

Here are some ways to handle incontinence in the workplace:

  1. Pack an emergency kit: Having the comfort of clean clothes will make you feel less stressed out about urinary incontinence at the office. Also pack a spare set of absorbent underwear and a plastic bag if you have an emergency. While you won’t necessarily use these items, being prepared will put your mind at ease.
  2. Wear dark clothing: If you are worried about a visible leak, stick to dark colours and thicker material. Choose absorbent materials like cotton.
  3. Do regular pelvic floor exercises: Pelvic floor exercises are effective for women who suffer from mild urinary incontinence. Clench and unclench your pelvic floor muscles to strengthen them.
  4. Go to the bathroom regularly: Schedule your bathroom breaks between meetings or conference calls, and take your time when you are there.
  5. Make it easier: Don’t wear clothing with fiddly, complicated zippers. Choose skirts or pants with elasticated bands to help you save time.
  6. Disclose: Talk to a trusted colleague, line manager or HR staff member about your condition.
  7. Go easy on the coffee: Caffeine is a diuretic which can stimulate urine production and irritate the bladder. If you are worried about incontinence at work, limit your amount of coffee per day.  Skip the coffee altogether if you know you have a meeting.
  8. Locate the bathroom: Not working in the comfort of your office? Locating the bathroom in an unknown place such as a conference venue, or client meeting, will put your mind at ease.
  9. Don’t skip the water: Your first reaction would be to avoid drinking water. That can actually have an adverse effect since not drinking enough water can irritate your bladder. However, don’t drink too much water
  10. Talk to your doctor: Consult your doctor about possible medication and treatment to keep incontinence under control.

Treatment of Urinary incontinence depends on the type of urinary incontinence. If it is caused by a medical problem, then it will go away when treated. Level exercises and bladder training also helps improve some types of incontinence. Medicine and surgery are also other options.

Sometimes its more than Urinary Incontinence

In addition to urinary incontinence, bowel (faecal) incontinence presents additional issues. There is the issue of odour and the discomfort of having stool next to your body for any amount of time. There is the need to clean up after it happens, which might mean bathing or showering, and the problem of disposal of the underwear that is soiled. At some point one may not be able to handle these tasks independently, relying on help from someone else. So what is the best thing to do?

  • Talk openly with those directly involved with you and about their discomfort, this can make it easier on everyone.
  • It’s important for you to state that this loss of incontinence is not intentional.
  • You may want to talk with your physician along with a family member or care partner so everyone is on the same page.
  • Then, know your options.Sometimes there is nothing that can be done, and sometimes there is.
  • Have your physician do a complete health check-up to rule out a urinary tract infection, prostate problems, and other treatable conditions.
  • Exercise generally helps. Specific exercises such as Kegels are designed to help; but be sure to check with your doctor what will work best for your specific condition.
  • Alcoholic beverages and caffeine will also cause you to urinate more. Consider limiting or timing your intake of coffee, black or green tea, some soft drinks, energy drinks, and over-the-counter medications that include caffeine.
  • Tomato and spicy foods, as well as citrus fruits and drinks, can also be irritating to the bladder.

Lastly recognize that you are not your health condition. Retaining a sense of acceptance may be your best defence to leading a more stress-free and satisfying life.