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What types of incontinence are there and who can help?

Incontinence is a common health condition affecting more than 4.8 million Australian men, women and children of all ages and nationalities.

Incontinence is defined as the involuntary loss of urine from the bladder (urinary incontinence) or bowel motion, faeces or wind from the bowel (faecal or bowel incontinence).

There are many types of incontinence, including:

Stress incontinence: leaking small amounts of urine during activities such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, walking, lifting, or playing sport. Other factors contributing to stress incontinence include diabetes, chronic cough, constipation and obesity. Stress incontinence can affect men after prostate surgery.

Urge incontinence: a sudden and strong need to urinate. It is also sometimes referred to as an unstable or overactive bladder, or detrusor instability.

Overflow incontinence: the bladder is unable to empty properly, resulting in frequent leakage of small amounts of urine.

Functional incontinence: when a person does not recognise the need to go to the toilet or does not recognise where the toilet is. This results in not getting to the toilet in time or passing urine in inappropriate places.

Faecal incontinence: when a person has difficulty controlling their bowel, which may result in passing 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.

People with a disability and chronic illness are significantly more likely to experience problems with their bladder and bowel function than the general community.  Bladder and bowel symptoms including incontinence can have a profound impact on the individual with disability and for those caring for them.

People with a disability or chronic illness may experience the following types of bladder and bowel problems:

  • Difficulty associated with being able to hold on to urine and bowel motion long enough to get to the toilet.
  • Difficulty associated with passing urine and emptying bowel adequately.
  • Difficulty associated with a combination of holding on and passing urine, and holding on and emptying bowel.
  • Difficulty getting to the toilet on time.


It is important to know that there are many treatments and practical management strategies to improve bladder and bowel control problems, for both individuals and carers. Continence nurse advisors on the National Continence Helpline (1800 33 00 66) can provide information and advice for treatment and management options, free resources and referrals to local services. The Helpline is staffed 8am-8pm (AEST) Monday to Friday and is managed by the Continence Foundation on behalf of the Australian Government.

Toilet Tactics Kit for Children

The Continence Foundation of Australia also has a Toilet Tactics Kit .

Toilet Tactics is a fun user-friendly kit designed to help promote healthy bladder and bowel habits in primary schools and to improve or maintain the standard of school toilets.

This program is seeking to motivate children to adopt healthy bladder and bowel habits by empowering them through education and knowledge. It is built on the premise that many lifelong attitudes, beliefs and behaviours begin in childhood and that instilling these behaviours at a young age may help avoid issues later in life. The kit is divided into sections for teachers, students and parents and can be integrated into classroom activities for health education.  It can be downloaded free at:

Further resources from the Continence Foundation of Australia can be found at:

Specific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can be found at:


The Continence Foundation of Australia also offers a wide range of free information resources for individuals, carers and professionals. These resources can be ordered via the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 or by visiting the Browse resources section of our website.


Bilingual resources and videos are also available 27 languages and can be downloaded from

Continence Foundation of Australia

The Continence Foundation of Australia is the national peak body representing the interests of Australians affected by, or at risk of, bladder and bowel control problems and acts as an advocate for their interests. The Continence Foundation is supported by the Australian Government Department of Social Services.
For more details go to or phone 1800 33 00 66.