Department of Health

Bladder problems

Lack of bladder control (incontinence) is a common health problem for many people at different times in their lives. About four million Australians have bladder control problems. It is most common amongst older people.

Any unexpected leaking of urine from the bladder is not normal. It may be just the occasional leak when you laugh or cough, or you may be suddenly unable to hold your urine at all. Often a very simple lifestyle change or treatment can help to cure, improve or manage it, no matter what the cause.

Answer the questions below for a quick check of how your bladder is working.

  • Do you leak when you laugh or sneeze?
  • Do you leak when you lift something heavy?
  • Do you leak when you play sport?
  • Do you have to rush to use the toilet?
  • Do you leak before you get to the toilet?
  • Are you often nervous because you think you might lose control of your bladder?
  • Do you wake up more than twice during the night to go to the toilet?
  • Do you plan your day around where the nearest toilet is?
  • Do you sometimes feel you have not emptied your bladder?
  • Do you leak when you change from sitting or lying to standing?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions you may have a bladder control problem and it is important you seek help. Poor bladder control can be embarrassing and distressing. If left untreated, it will not go away.


There are various causes of poor bladder control and many treatments. For men, once they reach the age of 40, they are more prone to having poor bladder control, often due to prostate issues. For women, if they have had a baby are three times more likely to have poor bladder control and leak than other women. Other causes include:


Having to go to the toilet at night is called nocturia. It can happen to both men and women, especially as we get older. By the time we reach 80 years of age, more than 50 per cent of us will wake to go to the toilet at least twice a night. There are three main types of nocturia and you can have more than one at a time. They are:

  • Nocturnal Polyuria - occurs when you produce excessive amounts of urine overnight (up to a third of your daily load)
  • Reduced Bladder Capacity - occurs when your bladder shrinks and cannot hold all your urine
  • Diurnal Polyuria - is more frequent visits to the toilet during both day and night

Some medicines can cause problems in the way the bladder and bowel work. Some over the counter, non prescription tablets can make bladder control and bowel problems worse. Always have these checked by your doctor or pharmacist.

Medicines that can cause problems for the bladder Medicines that can cause problems for the bowel
Fluid tablets Antidepressants
Antihistamines Sleeping tablets
Blood pressure tablets Parkinson's tablets
Strong pain killers Anti-inflammatory tablets
Antidepressants Strong pain killers
Parkinson's tablets Laxatives
Sleeping tablets Fluid tablets
Constipation medicine Medicines used for bladder control


There are a number of illnesses that may affect the bladder, some of which can manifest themselves in similar ways to incontinence, so it is important to seek help from your doctor or a continence advisor to identify the cause of your bladder problem.

What can I do?

Today, many health professionals specialise in incontinence. Seek help early from your doctor or continence nurse advisers. For further information also see: