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If you have problems with incontinence, you are not alone. Many people experience the same sort of problems. Urinary incontinence (passing water unintentionally) and bowel incontinence (difficulty in controlling bowel movements) affect around one in ten people in the UK at some point in their lives. These conditions are more common in older people, but they can happen at any age.
Incontinence can be embarrassing, uncomfortable and upsetting. You may be worried that smells or stains will show you up in front of others, or that you won't be able to find a toilet when you need one urgently. You might find that your skin becomes irritated or that you get a rash from soiled underwear.
If you're constantly worrying about having 'accidents' it can make it difficult to go confidently about your day-to-day life. But there are plenty of ways to manage your incontinence so that you lead a normal, active life.
If you're worried about incontinence, ask your GP for advice. Talking about bodily functions can be embarrassing but your doctor will have heard it all before and will be sympathetic.
Some medical conditions which cause incontinence can be treated quickly so that the problem goes away.
Other medical conditions may cause longer term problems with incontinence, but your doctor may be able to offer a range of medical treatments to improve your bladder and bowel control, and will ensure that you get the right advice on what to do to manage the problem.
Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea
The Continence Promotion Team is a service run by the local health trust for residents of Kensington and Chelsea, Barnet, and Westminster. It can provide advice, information and support on incontinence, and on the treatment options available.
There are a number of treatment options for bladder incontinence, as well as equipment and supplies which you can use to prevent any embarrassing leaks, and which can allow you to live a normal, active life.
Strengthen your pelvic floor
One of the main causes of bladder incontinence is weakness of the muscles in the pelvic floor which 'hold' the urine in the bladder. When these muscles are weak or damaged, urine can leak out, or come out suddenly when you laugh, cough or sneeze (this is called 'stress incontinence'). So one way to treat bladder incontinence is to try to strengthen these muscles. There are a number of pelvic floor exercises (sometimes called 'Kegels') that can be done to gradually build up strength and control.
The NHS website provides more information on these exercises.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to help with urinary incontinence. Some of these work by reducing the amount of urine your body produces, and some work on the muscles of the bladder to improve control. Talk to your GP about whether these treatments are right for you.
Incontinence pads are worn in the underwear to soak up any urine that comes out involuntarily, preventing leaks, smells and stains. People used to worry about feeling like they were wearing a nappy, but modern incontinence pads are slim and discreet, similar to sanitary pads in appearance, and are readily available in chemists and supermarkets. As well as absorbing the urine, they often contain odour-neutralising substances. You can also get incontinence pads on prescription from your doctor (though these are often the bulkier, more old-fashioned kind).
You can buy special pads and mattress protectors to use when you are in bed, which will soak up any urine that leaks in the night. These come in disposable or washable varieties and will keep your mattress clean as well as keeping moisture away from your skin. Modern incontinence bedding is nothing like the 'rubber sheets' some people may have experienced in childhood, and it's very inobtrusive - only you will know it's there.
There are a number of treatments that can ease or even cure faecal incontinence, as well as equipment and supplies to make you feel more confident and comfortable.
Pads and pants
Special close-fitting pants (sometimes called fixation pants) and absorbent pads can be used to prevent stains and leaks. These often contain odour-absorbing substances to reduce smells, and help to keep you feeling dry and comfortable. They can be washable or disposable so you can choose what works best for you.
Douches, enemas and irrigation
These are liquid rinses which are used to clean out the lower part of the bowel. This can be useful if you often feel the sensation of there being 'more to come' after you have passed a bowel movement, or if you suffer from passive soiling, which is when a small amount of faeces (poo) come out without you being aware of it.
Mattress covers and chair pads
Mattress covers and chair pads help to prevent staining from faecal incontinence when you are sitting or lying down, and protect your furniture from damage. They are designed to be inobtrusive so only you will know they are there.
If you find you suffer from incontinence due to runny stools (diarrhoea or 'the runs') which are hard to control, your doctor may recommend some changes to your diet - for example reducing the amount of fruit you eat, or avoiding caffeine, alcohol or artificial sweeteners.
Diarrhoea can be treated with anti-diarrhoeal medications, which are available from pharmacies quite inexpensively. There are also anti-spasmodic medications which control the movement of the muscles in the bowel, and laxatives to treat the constipation which can lead to sudden powerful bowel movements after a long period of not being able to 'go'. Talk to your GP to find out if these treatments are right for you.
Depending on the cause of your incontinence, your doctor may suggest surgical options, such as an operation to strengthen the anal sphincter (the ring of muscle that closes the bowel), or a colostomy, where a tube is inserted into the intestines to collect the faeces, rather than it being passed normally through your anus (back passage). Your doctor will be able to discuss these options with you in more detail.
Remember that you can access pads and some other equipment following an incontinence assessment from your local district nurses - talk to your GP to find out more.
If you prefer to make your own arrangements then People First cannot recommend individual companies, but the following are some of the many which you can find on the internet, and which provide equipment which will help you to manage your incontinence:-
Sometimes people with reduced mobility experience episodes of incontinence because they cannot get up from their chair or bed, and to the toilet in time, or because they are worried about falling on the way to the toilet.
If you experience problems with mobility which are affecting other areas of your life such as getting to the toilet on time then the following pages may be useful:
Hammersmith and Fulham
Hammersmith and Fulham provide a household collection service to collect incontinence pads, subject to a referral from your GP, district nurse or social worker.
Service users are supplied with appropriate coloured or marked sacks to store the incontinence waste in readiness for the once weekly collection.
Sometimes when you're out and about you may find you need to use a toilet urgently, and it can often be difficult to find a public toilet. Our page on Toilet facilities offers some tips on how to get around this problem so that you can go out and lead an active life confidently and in comfort.
The Continence Foundation provides advice on incontinence causes, treatment, prevention and care.
The Living Made Easy website contains lots of information on products and equipment which can help you to manage your incontinence according to your particular needs, and protect your furniture and home from the effects of incontinence accidents.
The Continence Product Advisor website provides advice on continence issues, and details of products which will help you manage any problems you are having.
The Alzheimers Society provide advice on managing incontinence for people with dementia.
Our Equipment to help at home page also gives details of other companies who can provide you with equipment to help manage problems with incontinence.
The Easy Health website has gathered together various easy-read leaflets and videos which will help people with learning disabilities to understand more about incontinence and other problems with bladder and bowels.