Adult Incontinence: A Comprehensive Guide

Adult incontinence is a condition which can have a serious effect on people's lives. It can be debilitating in itself, but it can also lead to a feeling of anxiety, depression, and social isolation. Because of this, it is crucial the incontinence is taken seriously and treated with the right incontinence products.

In this guide we will explain what incontinence is, the different types of incontinence, who incontinence affects and the best incontinence products to use to tackle the problem.

What is Incontinence?

Incontinence is most adequately described as the uncontrolled leakage of urine or faeces from the body. It can affect people of all ages and can occur as isolated incidents or as a recurring condition. For some, it can be severe, whereas for others it can be comparatively mild or moderate.

For most people, alongside the initial leakage, there are other issues that surface afterwards. These include things such as staining of clothing and odours. Because these are common occurrences for people with incontinence issues, they can seriously affect their confidence, mental wellbeing and general quality of life.

Different Types of Incontinence


There are many different types of incontinence, but in this post, we will detail the most common types. If you or anyone you know suspects they may have incontinence issues, read on and see if any of these compare to that experience.

Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is where urine leaks from the body unintentionally. This type of incontinence is twice as common in women than it is in men. It forms the basis of many of the other types of incontinence, but this is the broad and overarching term.

Faecal Incontinence

Faecal incontinence is similar to urinary incontinence, except that it is the uncontrolled leaking of faecal material from the anus. The expelled substance may be in the form of a liquid or semi-solid. Some people have recurring faecal incontinence, whereas others have it only occasionally.

Stress Incontinence

Stress incontinence is the most common type of incontinence, as it is common in women who have given birth. It is defined as involuntary urine leaking that occurs during physical movement or activity. It is often triggered by exercises that put pressure on the bladder, or everyday occurrences such as coughing, sneezing, laughing or lifting heavier objects.

Urge Incontinence

Urge Incontinence is when an individual has a sudden urge to urinate. This is not just an uncomfortable feeling – it is an "I need to go, right now" feeling. It can be triggered by something like the sound of running water, or even something completely unrelated to urination. It has been recorded that some people have experienced urge incontinence upon putting their keys in the front door when coming home.

Urge incontinence is the second most common type of incontinence. It is possible to have a mixture of urge and stress incontinence.

Overflow Incontinence

Overflow incontinence is often called drip incontinence. This is because in these cases, small amounts of urine leak out continuously. Overflow incontinence happens as a result of the bladder's failure to fully empty normally, and the leftover urine leaks out. In most cases, the urge to urinate is not present.

This type of incontinence often happens when there is a physical obstruction to the bladder, preventing it from functioning properly. Because of this, overflow incontinence can be common in older men, as an enlarged prostate can encroach on the bladder.

Functional Incontinence

Functional incontinence can be seen as a more indirect form of incontinence than others. This is because the bladder is working properly in these instances, but other factors have contributed to an inability to control the passing of urine or faeces.

Often this is related to other illnesses or conditions. In cases of advanced Alzheimer's disease, a person may no longer notice the need to go to the toilet in a socially acceptable place, ignoring messages from the bladder to the brain. Mobility issues are also a cause of functional incontinence, and can seriously impact the time it takes to get to a bathroom.

Total Incontinence

Total incontinence is when your bladder cannot store any urine at all. This causes either a constant passing of urine and very frequent leakage.

This type of incontinence is often caused by a problem with the bladder from birth, but can also be caused by spinal injury or bladder fistula.

Who Does Incontinence Affect?


Incontinence can affect anyone, but it is more common in certain groups of people and in certain circumstances. We will look through the groups that are more at risk of incontinence, and then explore the individual factors that may contribute to incontinence which do not necessarily fall within the previous groups.

Older People

Incontinence issues can develop more commonly in people as they get older. This can be due to a number of reasons, which generally lean towards other medical conditions that develop as people age. It is important to note, though, that bowel and bladder weakness is not definite when it comes to ageing.

For women, incontinence can often become more frequent after having gone through menopause. This is most commonly associated with stress incontinence, as detailed above because the bladder is put under undue pressure.

For men, incontinence can become more common when getting older because of the increase in the size of the prostate, which is more likely to happen as men age. An enlarged prostate gland puts pressure on the bladder and can lead to overflow incontinence. We have previously written a blog on 5 Causes of Urinary Incontinence in Men which we would recommend reading.

For more information about incontinence and the elderly, we have also written a piece on the topic, answering the question ‘Is Incontinence Age Related?'

People with Other Medical Conditions

Having other medical conditions can cause incontinence issues, usually in the form of functional incontinence. It can often be difficult to fully determine what is causing the incontinence because of this.

These are some examples of medical conditions or reasons as to why someone may suffer incontinence.

  1. Weak Pelvic Floor Muscles

The pelvic floor muscles are a sling of muscles which support and hold in place the bladder and outlet passage. If these muscles lose their flexibility or general strength - often as a result of trauma or injury to the ‘pelvic floor' during childbirth - then seemingly non-related activities such as sneezing or coughing can cause leakage.

  1. Menopause

Sometime during the menopause many women feel that their bladder becomes weaker, and urine leaks out. This can be because of the reduction in the amount of oestrogen the body is provided due to the menopause.

  1. Illnesses

Urinary tract infections and kidney infections can cause bladder weakness or incontinence for the duration of the illness. In much the same way, severe constipation can have the same effect.

  1. Nerve Damage

Spinal cord injuries, or nerve conditions such as multiple sclerosis, can cause incontinence.

How to Treat Incontinence

Incontinence Pads

The most important thing is knowing how to choose the right incontinence products. This is crucial because unless it is properly treated, incontinence can contribute to depressive episodes and a significant decrease in social activity.

High-quality incontinence products are discreet and allow people with incontinence to regain their independence and live their lives without fear of social stigma.

There are two main ways of dealing with adult incontinence: reusable products and disposable products.

Reusable Incontinence Products

Reusable or washable products are a useful way of tackling incontinence. Because these products can be washed and used again and again, they are well suited for individuals looking to continue with their regular routines.

These products can come in a variety of forms, including bedpans, body stockings, floor protection mats and mattress covers.

Advantages of reusable products:

  • More economical over time
  • Environmentally-friendly
  • Easier to store
  • Look and feel similar to regular underwear


  • You will need a washing machine to wash them fully at a high temperature
  • You will need several pairs to ensure that you are covered at any time.

Disposable Incontinence Products


Disposable incontinence products have, generally speaking, a larger market.  They are ideal for the care industry, as many of the products are adult diapers, incontinence pads and under-bed sheets.

This style of products enables the wearer to feel more comfortable with everyday life. Let’s take the AMD Anov Incontinence Products range for example - they have a wide range based on how severe an individual’s incontinence is and they also have separate products for men and women, designed specifically for each gender.

Disposable incontinence pads and supplies should usually be changed every 3-4 hours. We would also recommend that you use a product with a higher level of absorbency when sleeping. Also, make sure to never re-use an incontinence pad that is already wet or has already been used - this is very unhygienic anyway, but the pad will deteriorate quickly and leakage will seep through.

Advantages of disposable products:

  • Extremely hygienic due to being thrown away afterwards
  • Very convenient for the same reason
  • Easy to carry around and change when needed.


  • Less environmentally-friendly than reusable products
  • Can't be flushed down toilets as they need to be disposed of hygienically.

A Combination of Both Reusable and Disposable Incontinence Products

There is no obligation to only use one sort of incontinence product either. Often, people use both reusable and disposable products for different reasons or a mix of pads and diaper-style products.

For instance, some people may prefer the ease of a disposable product during the day, but would rather have a washable product at night. Similarly, a light AMD Anov Light incontinence pad may be ideal in the day because it is more discreet, but the added security of a maxi pad at home in the evening is better for that time.