Down Syndrome and Incontinence: What is The Connection?

Children and adults with down syndrome may be susceptible to developing incontinence. Here we provide you with information and support to best manage continence for those with down syndrome.

Down Syndrome And Incontinence: What Is The Connection?

Children and adults with down syndrome may be susceptible to developing incontinence. Here we provide you with information and support to best manage continence for those with down syndrome.

According to Down Syndrome Australia, as of 2019, it’s estimated that between 13,000 and 15,000 Australians have down syndrome. 

Incontinence can be a common symptom experienced by those with Down syndrome. One 2016 study found that 64% of children (aged 4-12) and 22.4% of adults with Down syndrome have urinary or fecal incontinence [1].  

So whether you’re a parent or carer, it’s really important to know how to best manage incontinence to ensure those experiencing it can live as comfortably and confidently as possible.

down syndrome person doing yoga

How are down syndrome and incontinence linked?

There are both physical and cognitive links between down syndrome and incontinence. 

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by abnormal cell divisions when a child is developing in the womb, which leads to a partial or full copy of chromosome 21 [2]. Children with Down syndrome may experience impaired cognitive ability, developmental delays, urinary complications and gastrointestinal (GI) issues. 

People with Down syndrome have a higher risk of developing urinary retention because of decreased muscle tone in the bladder. When bladder muscles are less taut it can result in the organ not being able to contract properly when urinating [3]. Urinary retention can lead to urinary incontinence as the bladder over-fills and can lead to unintentional leakage. A full bladder can also increase the urgency of needing to use the toilet, however, the person may not make it in time. Urge incontinence can also occur when the bladder muscles contract when they shouldn’t, causing a sudden urge to pass urine. 

One German study of 317 participants with Down syndrome [4] found that:

  • 17.2% of the sample had nocturnal enuresis (nighttime bed wetting)
  • 15.9% had daytime urinary incontinence
  • 14.2% had fecal incontinence

Of these results, incontinence was present in:

  • 64% of children (aged 4-12)
  • 10.3% of teens (aged 13-17)
  • 12.8% of young adults (aged 18-30 years)
  • 22.4% of adults (aged 30+) 

Regarding GI issues, one study found that 77% of children with Down syndrome have both structural and functional GI abnormalities [5], with symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation [6].

Not only can the urinary and GI challenges be causes of incontinence, but the cognitive and developmental delays can also mean that children with Down syndrome may take longer to learn toilet training and bathroom habits.

Where to get help with incontinence

Whether you’re a parent, unpaid carer or paid carer of a person with Down syndrome, there are plenty of amazing resources and products to ensure the utmost comfort and confidence. 

First and foremost, practice patience. If you’re exhibiting feelings of frustration and distress, your child or patient (if you’re a carer) may pick up on those feelings and reflect them. Demonstrating calm, supportive feelings will make the world of difference in managing incontinence episodes. 

Finding the right fitting continence management pull-ups or slips is crucial. To ensure you find a product that fits the needs of your child or patient, we created our simple Help Me Choose quiz. In just a few simple steps, you’ll find high-quality products that are going to best suit the wearer. Plus, it’s totally risk-free with our ‘It Fits or It’s Free’ money-back guarantee. Basically, if you buy any of our products and they aren’t quite right, we will refund you 100% of your purchase and even cover return shipping if you have any leftover items you don’t wish to use.  

Our range of high-quality pull-ups, all-in-one slips, booster pads and youth pants protect against leakage, offer impressive absorbency and are discreet and comfortable to wear.  

Another tip is to ensure your loved one or patient is maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet. There are certain foods and drinks that can irritate incontinence, such as caffeine and high-sugar treats. As for the bladder- and bowel-loving foods you should include, look to:

Strawberries and blackberries

For more dietary and nutrition advice, speak to your child’s GP for more tailored suggestions based on their individual needs.


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