Incontinence pads and other products can make life easier for you if you're waiting for a diagnosis or for a treatment to work.
"I wouldn't recommend that people with incontinence use pads without advice from a doctor or continence adviser," says Karen Logan, continence nurse and director of continence services at Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust. "But as a temporary measure, they can really improve your quality of life and save you from being housebound or spending all your time in the toilet."
A wide choice of absorbent pads and pull-ups that mop up urine leaks are available for men and women with all types of incontinence. They use the same technology as nappies and have a 'hydrophobic' layer which draws urine away from the surface of the pad, so your skin stays dry.
"Many women use sanitary pads instead of incontinence pads because they're cheaper, but they don't have the same technology. They stay damp and they can make skin sore," says Logan. "I recommend paying the extra for incontinence pads as they're much more effective and comfortable."
For people with severe leakage, continence clinics and district nurses can supply pads, often delivered to your home, on the NHS, but they tend to be big and bulky.
"Women with mild to moderate incontinence want the nice, thin, discrete pads you attach to your underwear. You pay for these yourself. They're on sale at most supermarkets, chemists and online. It doesn't really matter what brand you buy as they're all good quality," says Logan.
Some women with stress incontinence use super-sized tampons to prevent sudden leaks. Wearing a tampon in the vagina puts pressure on the bladder neck to stop leakage on exertion.
According to NICE guidelines on urinary incontinence, tampons aren't recommended for the routine management of urinary incontinence in women. The guidelines state: "Women should not be advised to consider such devices other than for occasional use when necessary to prevent leakage, for example during physical exercise."
Appliances and bedding
Other useful incontinence products for more serious leakage include sheaths and drainage systems for men and urinals (urine collection devices) for men and women.
A variety of incontinence bedding is available, such as washable bed pads, which sit on top of the mattress and soak up any overnight leakage. The pads stay dry to the touch and they can be useful for trips away from home.
Can you get them on the NHS?
What's available on the NHS varies throughout the country. Each primary care trust (PCT) has its own contract to supply incontinence products and its own eligibility criteria. To find out if you can get your incontinence pads, products and appliances for free, ask your local district nurse (get details at your GP surgery) for an assessment. They can advise you on whether you're eligible. If you are, they can arrange for a regular supply of pads to be delivered to you, if your local service provides home delivery.
You should be supplied with as many pads and other continence supplies as you need. If this doesn't happen or you have any concerns, tell your healthcare professionals. If you prefer, seek advice from your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS), which can be contacted through your local PCT.
Where to buy
The charity PromoCon (Promoting Continence and Product Awareness), which is part of Disabled Living, Manchester, gives independent advice on products that can help manage bladder and bowel problems. For more information on products and mail order, call their confidential helpline on 0161 834 2001 or visit the PromoCon website.