Using Sanitary Pads for Urinary Incontinence

Most women use sanitary pads for urinary incontinence because they are cheaper or just want to avoid the embarrassment of having to clear it at the counter. This embarrassment doesn’t just come from purchasing it, the topic itself is awkward and a lot of people with this condition refuse to admit this which lets it go underdiagnosed and underreported.

Menstruation is becoming less and less a taboo topic and is considered normal for women to buy pads.

If you live with incontinence, you’re not alone. According to a research by National Centre for Biotechnology Information, in women, moderate and severe bother have a prevalence ranging from about 3% to 17%. Severe incontinence has a low prevalence in young women, but rapidly increases at ages 70 through 80. In men, the prevalence of incontinence is much lower than in women, about 3% to 11% overall, with urge incontinence accounting for 40% to 80% of all male patients. The good news is, most cases of urinary incontinence are treatable, or at the very least manageable. The first step is getting informed.

If you’ve never looked up the word urinary incontinence, according to NAFC, urinary Incontinence is defined as the involuntary loss of urine. The severity ranges from occasionally leaking urine to complete emptying of the bladder.

Though it occurs more often as people get older, it isn’t an inevitable consequence of aging. It is common but shouldn’t be considered normal. There are different types of incontinence and they differ in severity.

There is stress incontinence, where the involuntary loss of urine is associated with anything that increases physical stress or pressure to any part of the body, but the path of least resistance or the weakest link is going to be your pelvic floor. So you sneeze - pee, trampoline - pee, laugh - pee, jump down the curb - pee, Cross fit – pee and so forth.

It’s anything where you’ve raised the pressure in your body, so if you pick up something really heavy, that’s also stress incontinence. It’s where the reactions of your body, whether they are to increase intra-abdominal pressure to brace against your spine, or this heavy load or if there’s a violent shake to your body, which jumping or jump roping or sneezing or laughing – or again, you’re increasing the pressure to your abdomen, which then goes and pushes on the pelvic cavity, which then creates a pressure on the bladder. All of those are stress incontinence. So that’s one type.

Then there’s also urge incontinence. And urge incontinence is the kind of constant, for no apparent reason, sudden urge – urgent need to void or pee, because it can be faecal at the same – it doesn’t always have to be – it’s not always urine.

Mixed incontinence is typically a combination of stress and urge incontinence, it shares symptoms with both.

Urinary incontinence is not a life-threatening condition, it is a hygiene and social problem to the individual, which adversely affects the health-related quality of life.

Some women claim these pads work for them and it is possible because both products, mostly follow the recommendations for quality standard by NAFC which cover eight specific characteristics;

  • Rewet rate – a measure of a product’s ability to withstand incontinent episodes between changes
  • Rate of acquisition – a measure of the speed at which urine is drawn away from the skin
  • Retention capacity – a measure of a product’s capacity to hold fluid without leaking
  • Sizing options – ranging from youth and small adult to extra-large and XX-large adult
  • Safety – no components including additives that are listed in any Federal Regulatory Agency as being considered “unsafe”
  • Presence of a closure system – allowing re-open ability
  • Breathable zones – an acceptable minimum air flow in side “wings” of the product sufficient to release trapped body heat/gaseous body perspiration in pelvic region
  • Performance of elastics – giving evidence of fit and functionality of containment of waste, without sacrificing comfort

Difference between sanitary pads and incontinence pads

If you recall, I said they mostly follow these recommendations to a certain degree. Incontinence pads are designed to hold on to a lot more fluids and menstrual pads are designed to hold less fluid. If you end up using sanitary pads when you’re leaking urine, you’re going to get a lot more leakage of urine back to your skin, and this is not an uncommon cause of vulva irritation and vulva dermatitis. In summary, they differ in functionality:

Absorbent polymers

The absorption level and rate of incontinence and menstrual pads differs wildly. Incontinence pads feature super absorbent polymer fibres that allow the pads to absorb fluid more quickly and efficiently. Even a small number of these fibres offer excellent absorbency. These fibres can also absorb and retain a large amount of liquid relative to their own mass. Finally, super absorbent polymer fibres absorb liquid at an extremely high speed, which is important for incontinence.

In comparison, the flow of menstruation is much slower than incontinence. As a result, menstruation pads feature a lower absorption power. While some menstruation pads claim to manage incontinence as well, most are only capable of holding 50-100ml. So it is cheaper to buy incontinence pads in the long run.

Incontinence pads help prevent infections

If your incontinence is not managed properly, it can lead to long term health issues. From urinary tract infections and renal disorders to skin irritation and pressure sores, you need to manage your condition carefully. Menstrual pads do not protect the skin against urine, putting you at a higher risk of infection.

Odour control

In menstruation pads, the deodorant in them masks the odour. This does not always work for urine. Incontinence pads pull urine away from the skin and neutralises the pH levels. This not only eliminates odours but can also help prevent against skin irritation.


Incontinence pads are designed with a top sheet and distribution layers specifically for the rapid flow of urine. . Menstrual pads, however, have an open design for thick liquids. Further, the top layers of menstrual pads are porous, allowing the gradual blood loss to be pulled away. In incontinence pads, the distribution layers work to quickly wick fluid away, keeping you dry.

Elastic barriers

Incontinence pads utilise an elastic barrier that is made of a non-woven material with elastic inside. As a result, this helps prevent leakage onto the skin, which ensures better skin health. Further, the non-woven material prevents contact with the poly edges.

Sanitary pads, on the other hand, do not feature elastic which means they are less effective for preventing leakage.

Can you use incontinence pads for periods?

They do actually work. You can use an incontinence pad in place of an actual period pad. However, it does soak in differently. Period fluid doesn’t get absorbed into the urine pad as well as it would a regular one. It’s a lot slower.

Can you use sanitary pads for urinary incontinence?

The short answer is absolutely not. This is true because of the functional differences between period pads and incontinence pads.

The main difference between the two pads is the type of fluid they’re meant to absorb. Menstrual pads are designed to absorb menstrual flow, which comes out much slower than urine. Bladder control pads, on the other hand, are designed to absorb the rapid dispersion of urine. They’re made with polymer fabrics that pull moisture away from the skin so that you stay dry, comfortable, and odour-free. Bladder control pads neutralize acidic urine, which can cause skin rashes if left unchanged.

While you may be tempted to use menstrual pads to help with bladder leakage, they don’t offer the same level of protection as bladder control pads. Generally, they are not going to keep your skin dry or prevent odour issues.

If your incontinence is not managed properly, it can lead to longer-term health risks, such as urinary tract infections, renal disorders, skin irritation, and pressure sores. As a result, wearing the wrong product can also cause more harm and emotional distress. It is important to wear the right incontinence products, like incontinence pads, to maintain your confidence and prevent embarrassing leaks.

Finally, using the right product has an enormous positive impact on your quality of life. By seeking out menstrual pads, instead of incontinence products, you are missing out on optimum protection by dodging incontinence products and if it’s too embarrassing to pick it up at physical stores, opt for online purchase.

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