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What is incontinence and light bladder leakage?

Woman covers her mouth in embarrassmentLight bladder leakage—often referred to as LBL—and incontinence are topics not generally discussed with your friends over a cup of coffee.

Sometimes people are too embarrassed to bring up such subjects, sometimes they are don’t even know they have a problem.

The thing is that incontinence is much more common than most people think.

So what exactly is continence and incontinence? And what can you do about it?

What is continence?

The ability to control when you pass urine and faeces. That’s a dictionary definition—when someone thinks about continence, they are more likely thinking about incontinence, or light bladder leakage (LBL). When you don’t have full control over when and where you bladder or bowels release their contents, whether in full or just a little.

Many more people—mums especially—struggle with LBL and incontinence than you think. The more common type is urinary, or bladder, incontinence, so this article focuses on that aspect.

You might be thinking that it won’t happen to you, it only happens to old people who have to wear nappies because they can’t make it to a toilet before they wet themselves—but you’d be wrong.

Here are some facts about incontinence that may surprise you—it’s a more common problem than imagine.

  • One third of women who have been through pregnancy and childbirth will experience some loss of bladder control
  • Approximately 37% of Australian women and 13% of Australian men experience loss of bladder control
  • Approximately 8% of people affected actually seek help

Types of urinary incontinence

There are many types of incontinence, and many varying symptoms—some that no one except yourself would even know you had. So what exactly can bladder incontinence look like, or feel like?

  • Full loss of bladder without any control—when you empty your entire bladder without meaning to
  • Small bladder leaks when you’re on the way to the toilet—these don’t have to be huge, just a little is a sign of incontinence
  • Small leaks when you cough, sneeze, laugh, lift heavy objects, or exercise
  • A frequent need to urinate—anything more than 8 times a days is too frequent, but this depends on your body too
  • Wetting the bed—any amount of urine being released while you’re asleep
  • Feeling like your bladder isn’t emptying completely—still feeling like you could urinate more once finished
  • Poor urine flow—a weak or slow stream of urine when you’re on the toilet
  • Frequent urinary tract infections
  • Difficulty fully emptying your bladder—when you know you need to urinate more, but can’t get it all out

If you think any of these symptoms apply to you, you should definitely make an appointment to see your doctor. Bladder incontinence is not a disease in itself; but it can be a symptom of something else.

You may be able to manage it yourself, or you may think it isn’t so dire because the symptoms aren’t obvious, but getting checked out by a health care professional is the best route to take.

What can you do about improving your bladder health?

For many women, bladder weakness can be cured and managed. There are several things you can do to ensure you have a healthy bladder:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Don’t go to the toilet “just in case” or every time you get the urge—hold on a bit longer
  • Cut down on bladder irritants such as coffee, tea, cola drinks, and alcohol
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Learn to do pelvic floor exercises


The content in this article should be used as a guide only. If you experience any health-related concerns you should contact your local healthcare provider or nearest emergency department.

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