There are a number of methods and products available to help manage urinary incontinence. In order to understand how different products can help, this Q&A guide provides an introduction to incontinence, its causes and treatment options.

What is incontinence?
Incontinence is the medical term for being unable to inhibit or control the release of urine (urinary incontinence) or faeces (faecal incontinence).

What are the different types of urinary incontinence?
There are several different types of urinary incontinence, each with different causes and symptoms. The most common types are stress urinary incontinence, urge urinary incontinence and mixed urinary incontinence.

What is neurogenic bladder?
Neurogenic bladder refers to a condition where neurological conditions damage lead to bladder dysfunction.

What are the signs and symptoms of urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence can have different signs and symptoms depending on the underlying cause and severity. Some typical signs include:

  • involuntary leakage of urine without warning or without feeling the need to go to the toilet

  • involuntary leakage of urine when sneezing, coughing, laughing or exercising

  • a sudden urge to rush to the toilet either before or when leaking urine

  • urine escaping before reaching a toilet

  • the need to get up to pass urine two or more times a night

What causes incontinence?
There are many different causes of incontinence and, as a result, it can affect people at any age. Potential causes include:

  • damage or weakness to the muscles in the pelvic floor (most commonly due to pregnancy and childbirth)

  • problems with the control of the bladder muscle

  • neurological conditions that affect the voluntary release of urine (such as spina bifida or multiple sclerosis)

  • an enlarged prostate gland in men

  • urinary tract infection

  • type 2 diabetes

Is incontinence very common?
Although the exact number of people affected by urinary incontinence is unknown (many people never visit a healthcare professional or reveal their symptoms), urinary incontinence is much more common than you might think.

Studies suggest that between 1 in 5 and 1 in 2 adult women are affected by urinary incontinence, many of whom live independent and active lives. And although urinary incontinence is less common in men, it still affects around 1 in 20 men aged 18 and above, and 1 in 10 men aged 60 and above.

Is incontinence a natural part of aging?
Although incontinence becomes more common with advancing age, it’s not just older people who are affected. Effective solutions are available, so it shouldn’t stop you from living a full and active life, whatever your age.

How is it possible to continue a social life with incontinence?
It’s possible to manage incontinence effectively – and with the right solution there should be no need to worry about leaks, odour, toilet facilities or finding somewhere to change. A doctor or nurse should be able to help find a solution that makes it possible to continue a social life and everyday activities.

Can incontinence be treated?
Some types of incontinence can be treated or improved through lifestyle changes, pelvic floor exercises, bladder training, medication or surgery. If a cure isn’t possible or a management solution is required, products such as catheters, sheaths (for men) or absorbent products can be very helpful.

Products for incontinence

Non-surgical products

Discreet and effective, sheaths help men manage urinary incontinence. A sheath is a soft, flexible sleeve that fits onto the penis.

Urine is funnelled through a tube to a bag, which safely stores the urine until you are ready to empty it into a toilet. Strapped to your leg, the bag is hidden by your trousers. Sheaths also allow urine to be drained away from the skin’s surface and so protect against odour and skin rashes.

You can wear a sheath for up to 24 hours, so you only need to change it once a day. After use, disconnect the sheath from the collecting tube, roll it off the penis and disposed of it in the bin.

There are different sheaths available – some have a more advanced adhesive built in and anti-kink features to protect against leaks, making them a discreet and very effective product.

Pads are used to absorb urine. For light incontinence, there are washable padded pants or disposable pads that that can be worn with purpose-made washable underwear.

It is important that you change pads frequently to reduce odour and to limit the potential for skin rashes and infection. Some people feel that pads are not as discreet, and they can be difficult to dispose of.

Catheters are slim, hollow, flexible tubes that are inserted into the bladder to allow the urine to drain. Catheters can be used intermittently (intermittent or self-catheterisation) by inserting a sterile catheter into the bladder through the urethra at timed intervals.

Alternatively, an indwelling catheter can be fitted through the urethra or a suprapubically, through a hole created in the lower abdomen. With indwelling catheters, there are two options for emptying the urine:

  • a catheter valve – urine is stored in the bladder and emptied through the catheter into a toilet

  • a drainage bag – urine drains into a bag that is secured to the leg or kept on a stand at night. Indwelling catheters are usually left in place for 4-12 weeks before changing

  • Catheters come in different lengths and sizes for men, women and children, and some are pre-lubricated for easier insertion.

Surgical products
Surgery for stress urinary incontinence may involve fitting a mesh-like sling, injecting a bulking agent next to the urethra (periurethral bulking therapy) or fitting an artificial urinary sphincter.

Further information

Bladder and Bowel Foundation –

Coloplast –