What Is Incontinence?

What is incontinence?

Urinary incontinence, (the involuntary loss of bladder control, or peeing in your pants), can have a dramatic impact on one’s life! Currently it is estimated that there are over 3.3 million Canadians experiencing at least one of the different types of urinary incontinence!

Did you know that urinary incontinence means a loss of bladder control? If you did not, you are not alone. Almost half the Canadian population does not know what the word "incontinence" means, despite the fact that 3.3 million Canadians experience it! 

Incontinence is a widespread condition that ranges in severity from ‘just a small or occasional leak’ to the complete loss of bladder or bowel control. It can occur at any age but it is more likely to develop as you get older. Some people wrongly think that incontinence is a normal part of aging or that it cannot be treated. This is unfortunate, as many cases can be successfully treated or significantly improved.

Imagine being worried about not being able to travel, or not enjoying a movie and dinner with your partner. How about if working out at your gym, lifting your child or groceries makes you sweat with nerves about an accident?  What if you absolutely must know where the bathrooms are located in the shopping mall, or you are embarrassed to have intimate relations with your mate? What if you don’t imagine this because incontinence is impacting your life.

There are ways to manage incontinence, and in many cases cure it, however due to embarrassment many people do not seek help. We need to start talking about incontinence and making sure people know its ok to get help, but more importantly that there are non-surgical and non pharmaceutical treatments!

Incontinence is not a disease.

Incontinence is a symptom of something else going on in the body, and should be discussed with a healthcare professional to make sure that underlying cause is not just weak pelvic floor muscles.  Incontinence can be either cured, treated, or managed successfully.

  • Incontinence means the involuntary release of urine at the wrong time and/or place.
  • The number of people experiencing incontinence will rise dramatically over the coming years due to the aging "boomer" population.
  • In one study, 74.5% of respondents reported that day-to-day activities had been modified at least a little because of urine leakage.
  • People suffering with incontinence experience various emotions during  incontinence—84.3% reported feeling embarrassment, 73.4% reported feeling discouraged, and 83.1% reported feelings of frustration.

The common causes of urinary incontinence:

Weakening of the Pelvic Floor Muscles and Urethral Sphincter

This may occur as a result of trauma of vaginal childbirth, disease process affecting the brain and spinal cord such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes mellitus and stroke; birth defects, injuries from an accident usually with fracture of the pelvic bones, or a consequence of medications or after surgery such as removal of the prostate gland.


Menopause and Old Age

Changes which occur with the menopause in women and natural aging process in the urinary bladder, urethra and pelvic floor muscles and sphincters may contribute to incontinence by interfering with the normal process of urination. For example, the natural enlargement of the prostate gland as men age or the presence of a prolapsed vagina or uterus that is common in old women may cause obstruction or abnormal descent of the urethra. The progressive decrease of estrogen after the menopause and aging which women experience, CAN lead to weakness of the pelvic floor muscles and sphincters. It is important to note here that having incontinence in old age is NOT normal and needs consultation with a health care provider.


Incontinence tends to run in families and there is a genetic component involved in the weakness of the pelvic floor muscles and urethral sphincter.


Obesity and overweight increase the risk of having incontinence because the accumulation of fat increases the abdominal pressure. This overcomes the ability of the urethral sphincter to keep the urethra closed during activities that increase the abdominal pressure like walking, lifting, coughing, sneezing and sports.

Chest Infections and Constipation

Chest infections such as bronchitis, flu or common cold and chronic constipation increase the risk of incontinence because repeated coughing and straining significantly increases the abdominal pressure.

Urinary Tract infections

This is a common cause of incontinence. Infection in the urinary bladder (cystitis) increases the sensitivity of the bladder muscle and its liability to contract inappropriately causing incontinence.

Smoking and Alcohol

Smoking increases the risk of chest infections and coughing. Nicotine and excessive alcohol have a stimulant effect on the bladder muscle that leads to inappropriate contractions causing incontinence.

Other Causes

Since there are sometimes no obvious organic cause to explain urinary incontinence as well as many possible causes of incontinence, it should be diagnosed by a health care provider in order to determine the cause and to ensure that this is not a symptom of another problem, and that the correct treatment options can be discussed and selected.