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June 22, 2016

World Continence Week

World Continence Week

20-26 June is World Continence Week.

The Continence Foundation of Australia has a wealth of information and resources about incontinence. Click on the blue link to go to their website.

What is incontinence?

Incontinence is a term that describes any accidental or involuntary loss of urine from the bladder (urinary incontinence) or bowel motion, faeces or wind from the bowel (faecal or bowel incontinence).

Incontinence is a widespread condition that ranges in severity from ‘just a small leak’ to complete loss of bladder or bowel control. In fact, over 4.8 million Australians have bladder or bowel control problems for a variety of reasons. Incontinence can be treated and managed.  In many cases it can also be cured.

Think you might have a problem?

If you experience bladder or bowel problems, but are not sure if you should seek help, try the questionnaire below.

Bladder and bowel questionnaire:

Do you sometimes feel you have not completely emptied your bladder?

Do you have to rush to use the toilet?

Are you frequently nervous because you think you might lose control of your bladder or bowel?

Do you wake up twice or more during the night to go to the toilet?

Do you sometimes leak before you get to the toilet?

Do you sometimes leak when you lift something heavy, sneeze, cough or laugh?

Do you sometimes leak when you exercise or play sport?

Do you sometimes leak when you change from a seated or lying position to a standing position?

Do you strain to empty to bowel?

Do you sometimes soil your underwear?

Do you plan your daily routine around where the nearest toilet is?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions you may have a bladder or bowel control problem.

Seeking  help

The first step is to talk to your doctor or contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66. The National Continence Helpline is staffed by a team of continence nurse advisors who offer free information, advice and support and can provide you with a wide range of information resources and referrals to local services.

Urinary incontinence 

Urinary incontinence (or poor bladder control) is a common condition, that is commonly associated with pregnancy, childbirth, menopause or a range of chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes or arthritis.

Poor bladder control can range from the occasional leak when you laugh, cough or exercise to the complete inability to control your bladder, which may cause you to completely wet yourself. Other symptoms you may experience include the constant need to urgently or frequently visit the toilet, associated with ‘accidents’.

There are different types of incontinence with a number of possible causes. The following are the most common:

stress incontinence

urge incontinence

incontinence associated with chronic retention, and

functional incontinence.

Urinary incontinence can be caused by many things, but can be treated, better managed and in many cases cured.  For this reason, it is important to talk to your doctor or a continence advisor about your symptoms, in order to get on top of them.

Faecal incontinence

People with poor bowel control or faecal incontinence have difficulty controlling their bowels. This may mean you pass faeces or stools at the wrong time or in the wrong place. You may also find you pass wind when you don’t mean to or experience staining of your underwear.

About one in 20 people experience poor bowel control. It is more common as you get older, but a lot of young people also have poor bowel control. Many people with poor bowel control also have poor bladder control (wetting themselves).

Faecal incontinence can have a number of possible causes. The following are the most common:

weak back passage muscles due to having babies,

getting older,

some types of surgery or radiation therapy,

constipation, or

severe diarrhoea.

Who can help?

If you are asking who best to seek advice from, there are many different types of specialist for dealing with incontinence. The first step is to talk to your doctor or contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66. They can advise you on the health professional best suited to your needs.

Health professionals

There are a number of health professionals that specialise in the area of continence which can make it confusing to work out who you should see to treat your problem.  This information outlines the different types of health professionals and their role / area of expertise.  It also provides some tips on how to approach your first appointment with a health professional.

The Continence Foundation recommends speaking to your doctor or a continence nurse advisor on the National Continence Helpline 1800 33 00 66 to help determine the most suitable health professional / service provider to meet your needs, which is an important part of your help seeking journey.


Continence nurse advisor

A continence nurse advisor is a registered nurse with extensive training in continence care. They are able to assess your condition and work with you to develop a management plan to suit your needs.  Continence nurse advisors may visit you at home or see you in a continence clinic.

Allied health

Continence and women’s health or pelvic floor physiotherapist

Continence and women’s health or pelvic floor physiotherapists hold post-graduate qualifications specialising in pelvic floor muscle training.  They can assess your pelvic floor function and tailor an exercise program to meet your specific needs. They can also prescribe other treatment options such as biofeedback and discuss relevant lifestyle factors with you.

Physiotherapist with an interest in continence and women’s health or pelvic floor;

Physiotherapists with an interest in continence and women’s health or pelvic floor do not hold post-graduate qualifications, but may work exclusively in this area.  They can assess your pelvic floor function and tailor an exercise program to meet your specific needs. They can also prescribe other treatment options and discuss relevant lifestyle factors with you.

Accredited Practicing Dietitian

Accredited Practising Dietitians are recognised professionals with the qualifications and skills to provide expert nutrition and dietary advice. They know about food and health and can help you sort through the maze of nutrition information.

Occupational therapist

Occupational therapists work in partnership with other health professionals (and often the family and friends of the people with incontinence) to ensure the safety and independence of the person within and outside of their home (activities of daily life).


Pharmacists can offer advice on medications that may cause or aggravate incontinence. They may also be able to provide you with continence product advice, free information resources and the details of local continence service providers.


General practitioner

General practitioners (GP) can assess, diagnose and treat incontinence. GPs have varying levels of knowledge on incontinence. They may therefore choose to refer you to a continence health professional rather than diagnose and treat your condition themselves, which is an equally effective and in some cases better, option.

If you are seen by a continence health professional it is important to involve your GP in your care. This is as they possess good knowledge of your health history, including any medical conditions, surgery or medications you may have or be on, which may pre-dispose you to developing incontinence.

If you are embarrassed to speak to your GP about bladder or bowel weakness try and tie it in to a regular health check or Pap smear or prostate examination. You should also discuss the management of other conditions such as asthma, diabetes, obesity and arthritis to reduce their impact on your incontinence.


Urologists are combined medical and surgical specialists who treat men and women with kidney, bladder and urinary problems. Urologists also care for men’s sexual and reproductive health.


A gynecologist is a doctor who specialises in preventing and treating illnesses of the female reproductive organs. If you are incontinent, your general practitioner may refer you to a specialist, such as a gynaecologist, to discuss treatment that may improve your condition.


A urogynaecologist is a fully trained gynaecologist who has undertaken further advanced specialist training to deal with the complexities of vaginal prolapse and types of bladder dysfunction including urinary incontinence.


Geriatricians are doctors who specialise in providing medical care for elderly persons. Rather than focus solely on disease detection and cure, they also deal with the social and rehabilitative aspects of an elderly person’s health.


Gastroenterologists specialise in gastrointestinal diseases and are able to investigate the causes and contributing factors to severe bowel dysfunction.

Colorectal surgeon

Once a person has visited a gastroenterologist and investigations suggest a diagnosis of severe rectal dysfunction the physician may refer the client to a colorectal surgeon. Colorectal surgeons have skills in surgical techniques designed to correct mechanical bowel dysfunction that contributes to constipation.