On the surface, bladder leakage in young women seems a trivial matter, but if it restricts a woman’s ability to take part in normal everyday activities, it can have much more serious consequences.

Recent research from the University of Adelaide (Avery et al. 2013) found that younger women’s mental health was often hit hard by urinary incontinence, while older women tended to be more resilient and accepting of the condition.

This finding, according to author Jodie Avery, might be due to the (mistaken) assumption by many that incontinence was an older woman’s condition.

The study found that key issues for younger women affected by incontinence were family, sexual relationships, sport and leisure activities.

Despite common beliefs, more than half the women in Australia living with incontinence are under 50 years of age.

Incontinence, one of Australia’s biggest health issues, is more prevalent than asthma (2 million), anxiety disorders (2.3 million) and arthritis (3.1 million), with 4.8 million, or one in four Australians over the age of 15, affected.  (Deloitte, 2011)

Ms Avery’s study showed that 20 per cent of the incontinent population had depression, much higher than the rest of the population (estimated at between 0.8 and 9.6 per cent by the World Health Organisation).

She said GPs needed to be aware that if their patient was affected by incontinence, the condition was often linked with depression, which needed to be treated to increase their quality of life.

Like depression, there is still a stigma attached to incontinence, with only about 70 per cent of people affected seeking professional help – this, despite the fact that incontinence is preventable and easily treated in most cases.

CEO of The Continence Foundation of Australia Barry Cahill, said there was much that could be done to prevent and manage incontinence.

“When you consider it can impact a person psychologically as well as physically, its even more important people acquire good bladder and bowel health practices,” Mr Cahill said.

In the majority of cases, preventing incontinence was simply a case of protecting the pelvic floor, he said.

“Avoid activities that stretch your pelvic floor or force you to push down on it – like heavy lifting, high impact sports, straining on the toilet due to constipation, chronic coughing or gaining excessive weight.

“And of course, doing your pelvic floor exercises every day will strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which, like any other muscles, can be made stronger with regular exercise,” Mr Cahill said.

He also acknowledged the important role exercise played in general health and wellbeing, and directed readers to the pelvicfloorfirst.org.au website, which provides information on safe pelvic floor exercises.

The Continence Foundation has also developed two smartphone apps, Pelvic Floor First and the Pelvic floor awareness in pregnancy, along with numerous other free downloadable resources.

Sometimes conservative measures aren’t enough to manage more severe cases of incontinence, and help is available through the Continence Foundation’s National Continence Helpline, he said.

Anyone with incontinence issues can phone the free, confidential Helpline (1800 33 00 66), which is staffed by continence health nurses who can provide advice, information and referrals to the public and health professionals. Go to continence.org.au for more information.

References: Avery et al. BMC Urology 2013, 13:11
The economic impact of incontinence in Australia, Deloitte Access Economics 2011
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  • I suffer from light bladder leakage at certain times, if I sneeze unexpectedly or cough overly hard, if I run etc. I do my pelvic floor exercises but sometimes I forget so I’m not really improving them


  • How interesting, such an important article to read, thanks


  • Very interesting article, thank you.


  • so important to do your exercises


  • So many ladies have both these issues, its time to support one another.


  • It is great to see this issue becoming less taboo, opening up the way for people to talk about it.


  • Thank you for this interesting article and information.


  • I’ve lived with incontinence from the age of 27 after I had my first child. I have now had 3 children in total. It affects me and I suffer depression too. Mainly because I can’t run otherwise I wet myself. I wet myself when I yell so I can’t win. I try to remember to do my pelvic floor exercises, even bought a kegel ball to help. I won’t give up.
    I’m depressed because I can’t exercise because when I do I wet myself. Keep persisting !!
    I know I am…I hate being fat

    • Jillian, I really feel for you. I think it may be a good idea for you to call the National Continence Helpline. The continence nurses there can steer you in the right direction – and offer an encouraging and sympathetic ear. The number is 1800 33 00 66 and they’re open from 8am – 8pm each week day.


  • You learn something every day, didn’t know this.


  • I did t know this and when you have a family member that suffers from depression all tho info you have on it is helpful. Thank you.


  • I suffer from it and I should ring the helpline and I will to see if they can help at all.


  • I had a C-Section so thought I didn’t need to do the pelvic floor exercises…..turns out I was wrong!


  • Thanks for a great article & references on how to perform pelvic floor exercises & the continence helpline.


  • I never realised incontinence effected so many younger girls.


  • I really feel for you. If you still have issues or are concerned about your children, you can call the free National Continence Helpline 1800 33 00 66 and they can put you on the right track. They\’re a bunch of highly skilled continence nurses who are up with the latest in the field. Good luck.


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