What’s the difference between continence and incontinence?

Continence and incontinence are terms that are often thrown around when talking about bladder issues, but what exactly do they mean? Read on for a rundown of everything you need to know.

People questions incontinence

How is continence defined?

Simply put, continence is the ability to control one’s bladder and bowel function.1 As new parents know, babies are not born with this capacity and require nappies to keep them comfortable. Instead, this function has to be learned through toilet training.

By the age of three, 90% of children are dry most days, though they may have the occasional accident (leaking of urine) when they get excited or upset.2 Furthermore, most children are reliably dry during the day by age four.3 Full continence (including overnight) is not usually achieved until after children are five years old, though 1 in 5 children continue to wet the bed at this stage.

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What is incontinence?

At this point, you might have worked out that incontinence is the opposite of continence, that is, an inability to control one’s bladder. It’s a fairly common problem, thought to affect millions of people.4 It’s also known by a variety of names including (but not limited to):

  • bladder weakness
  • frequent urination
  • urine leakage
  • urine loss
  • involuntary urination.

With all these terms for the same thing, it’s no wonder you might be confused! Let’s break down urinary incontinence further…

Types of incontinence

Types of incontinence

There are many types of incontinence, including:

  • stress incontinence – where leaks occur when pressure is put on the bladder
  • overflow incontinence – experiencing a frequent dribble of wee
  • functional incontinence – when a physical or mental impairment prevents you from getting to the toilet in time, such as arthritis
  • mixed incontinence5
  • total incontinence – when your bladder cannot hold any urine at all6
  • urge incontinence (also known as an overactive bladder) – a sudden need to pee7
  • bedwetting (also known as nocturnal enuresis)8
  • reflex incontinence – when the bladder muscles spasm and leaks occur9.

If you experience urinary incontinence or other bladder problems, there are many solutions available, including continence products. The iD range includes various options suitable for various issues, and they’re all discreet, affordable and comfortable.

What is my ideal solution?

Causes and management of incontinence

While many things may cause incontinence (read more about potential causes here), some are more common than others. The most likely are:

  • pregnancy and childbirth
  • the menopause
  • age
  • obesity
  • cystitis
  • other medical conditions, such as a stroke or tumour
  • prostate issues
  • constipation
  • abnormal anatomy
  • fistulas
  • urinary tract infections (UTIs).10

Additionally, while lifestyle factors cannot cause urinary incontinence alone, they can contribute to making it worse. These include:

  • certain foods and drinks that irritate the bladder, such as caffeine and alcohol
  • some medications, including muscle relaxants, sedatives and blood pressure tablets
  • smoking
  • artificial sweeteners.11

If you’re interested in learning more about managing continence and incontinence issues,  make sure to explore our blog further. We have articles on many topics relating to bladder health, like the relationship between weight gain and incontinence, foods to prevent bladder inflammation and more!and more! And don’t forget to keep coming back, as we publish new posts every month.


1 “Continence and incontinence”, Wellspect, 7 August 2020, Sources: https://blog.wellspect.com/continence-and-incontinence
2 “How to potty train”, NHS, 16 August 2018, Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/babys-development/potty-training-and-bedwetting/how-to-potty-train/
3 Ibid.
4 “Urinary incontinence”, NHS, 7 November 2019, Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-incontinence/
5 “Urinary incontinence”, Mayo Clinic Staff, n.d., Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-incontinence/symptoms-causes/syc-20352808
6 “Urinary incontinence”, NHS, 7 November 2019, Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-incontinence/
7 “Urinary Incontinence”, Urology Care Foundation, n.d., Source: https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/u/urinary-incontinence
8 “Adult Bedwetting (Enuresis)”, Beaumont, n.d., Source: https://www.beaumont.org/conditions/enuresis
9 “Types of urinary incontinence”, Harvard Health Publishing, 28 December 2014, Source: https://www.health.harvard.edu/bladder-and-bowel/types-of-urinary-incontinence
10 “Urinary incontinence: What you need to know”, Tim Newman, 14 December 2017, Source: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/165408
11 “Urinary Incontinence: Stress And Lifestyle Factors That Can Increase Your Risk”, Dr Manohar Bhadrappa, 14 February 2022, Source: https://www.thehealthsite.com/diseases-conditions/urinary-incontinence/urinary-incontinence-stress-and-lifestyle-factors-that-can-increase-your-risk-863736/