Urinary Incontinence Guide

Living With Urinary Incontinence
21 February 2023

Urinary Incontinence Guide

Urinary incontinence is a condition that affects millions of people and can be extremely embarrassing for the individual. We want to help address the stigma attached to it by explaining what it is, why it happens, and what you can do to treat it.

Urinary Incontinence: The facts

Urinary incontinence is the unintentional passing of urine due to bladder weakness. The first thing to say is that it affects both men and women. It’s a common misconception that only women suffer from incontinence but that simply isn’t true.

Around 7 million people in the UK suffer from incontinence*; of that figure, 75% are women and urinary incontinence in men accounts for the other 25%.

What are the 4 types of urinary incontinence?

Types of Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence can be divided into four different subcategories:

1. Overflow incontinence

This is when you are unable to fully relieve yourself, causing leaking.

2. Stress incontinence

This happens when your bladder is under pressure and urine leaks out. This can happen when you laugh or cough.

Both women and men are at higher risk of stress incontinence due to the following factors:

  • Obesity and related conditions
  • Age
  • Mental conditions
  • Comorbidities (multiple conditions)

3. Total incontinence

The most severe form of urinary incontinence. This is when you cannot store any urine at all, leading to frequent leaking.

4. Urge incontinence

When you feel a sudden urge to pee and can't hold it to make it to the toilet in time, resulting in leaking. Read our tips for dealing with urge incontinence.

What is the main cause of urinary incontinence?

Pregnancy and vaginal birth are the main causes of urinary incontinence causes in females, but age, obesity, and a family history of urinary incontinence are just as common.

In males, the prostate starts to enlarge from the age of 40, causing it to press on the bladder which results in leakages. Other urinary incontinence causes in males are very similar to females:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Family history of incontinence or weak floors and bladders

Can urine incontinence be treated?

Yes. There are a number of non-surgical solutions to try and combat urinary incontinence symptoms. These include:

  • Reducing the amount of alcohol and caffeine that you drink
  • Losing weight and choosing a healthier diet
  • Not lifting heavy things
  • Pelvic floor excercised to strengthen your pelvic muscles
  • If you can train yourself to hold out a little longer before you visit the toilet, this may also help.

Urinary Incontinence Trigger Foods

If these don’t help then surgical urinary incontinence treatments may have to be considered.

Stress incontinence can be treated using a sling procedure, which involves using either a strip from your own body or synthetic material to support the urethra and reduce pressure on the bladder. This is also known as the Burch procedure. Urge incontinence can be treated by artificially enlarging the bladder and then installing a device that controls the nerves and muscles that control the bladder.


NHS Practical Guidance (June 2018)