Continence aids help people manage urinary incontinence. According to the Continence Foundation of Australia, urinary incontinence affects up to 10% of Australian men and up to 38% of Australian women.
One of the most difficult things you'll encounter when buying incontinence products is trying to compare the offering between brands, which is why we decided to test all the incontinence pads we could find on the market.
Incontinence is where, for any number of reasons, the muscles of the bladder or bowel have poor control, resulting in loss of urine from the bladder (urinary incontinence) or bowel motion, faeces or wind from the bowel (bowel incontinence).
Sometimes incontinence products are used for a short amount of time during medical procedures, or a longer period if the symptom is longer lasting.
There are three main types of products to manage incontinence:
- liners (light leakage)
- pads (moderate leakage)
- underwear (heavy leakage).
There's so much variation in the language that brands use to describe their products, it can be very difficult to compare your options. Here are some of the basic features you'll come across.
Within each of these categories, there are levels of leakage the products are designed to suit. Manufacturers tend to use images of 'droplets' on their packaging to describe their absorbency rate, but they all use different ratings so it's tricky to compare between brands.
Some products are better than others at protecting you from feeling wet.
Thickness of product
Some pads, liners and underwear are thicker than others, which can affect how discreet you think the product looks and feels.
Manufacturers use various phrases to describe the size of the product, such as long, extra, regular, medium, super... and then there's the actual size each product is available in, which can include long, regular, light, S/M/L/XL, and 'one size fits all'. Sometimes these relate to length, sometimes flow of leakage – again, all relative within brands and with zero relation between brands.
Some products define the gender they're recommended for – this seems to be marketing in many cases, apart from the pouch characteristic which has a design to accommodate the male appendage.
Other claims products may make include:
- dermatologically tested
- suitable for sensitive skin
- odour control
- latex free
- PEFC FSC or Sustainable Forest Initiative Certified.
Your doctor, continence nurse or GP can advise you on the type of product to look for, and many manufacturers offer free samples so you can try before you buy. This is a great option that we recommend you take up, and we've indicated in our test results comparison table which brands can send you a free sample.
First though, you'll need to know just how much leakage you're prone to – this is the best indicator for what product you'll need.
There are some simple tests your GP can use to help assess this.
The per product cost for incontinence pads can range from 21 cents to $1.33.
Depending on how often you need to wear them, this can add up, so look to buy in bulk or on sale where possible. There are also financial subsidies for continence products available in certain circumstances.
For those that don't qualify for subsidies, some ingenious consumers have identified that nappies are actually much less expensive in many cases when it comes to underwear-type incontinence products, so they buy these along with adhesive strips – after some DIY work on the nappies (cutting though the waist restraint), they have a budget option.
While they may look similar, incontinence pads and sanitary pads are not the same, as the fluid and odours associated with incontinence and menstruation are different. Incontinence pads are designed to protect against bladder leaks and also control urine odours, while sanitary pads are designed to absorb blood during menstruation, postpartum bleeding or during recovery from vaginal surgery. They both come in a variety of sizes and absorbency levels.
All of the continence pads we reviewed are disposable in a bin. None of them are made from biodegradable materials and none can be flushed down the toilet.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.