We’ve all been there. You give a sudden laugh, an unexpected sneeze or a quick cough and then become aware of an unpleasant sensation: you’ve had a little leak.

The next few moments are spent worrying. How bad is it? Is it noticeable? And however will you hide it if it is?

Because for most women bladder weakness is a taboo subject, an embarrassing secret not to be mentioned to anyone.

Yet it’s astonishingly common, affecting more British people than hayfever. In fact, one in three women over 35 will experience it.

Overall, more than nine million people in the UK – men and women, young and old – have some form of bladder weakness.

Yet most suffer in silence for years before seeking help and 35% of women have avoided a situation that makes them laugh due to bladder weakness. 

Boots Staydry have been supporting those experiencing bladder weakness since 2002, working to break this taboo and helping them to live life to the full. 

Bladder weakness, or urinary incontinence, simply means you sometimes unintentionally pass urine. There are several types which have different causes.

· Stress incontinence. This is the most usual form in women and it’s often brought on by pregnancy (in fact 60% of women experience some form of bladder weakness either during or after pregnancy), the menopause or obesity. It can be caused by having weak pelvic floor muscles which allow leakages when put under pressure by laughing, coughing, sneezing or even exercising.

· Urge incontinence. Also known as an overactive bladder, this is caused by the bladder muscles contracting too often, possibly because you’ve drunk too much caffeine or alcohol or haven’t drunk enough fluid. It leads to a sudden and intense need to pee that can’t be controlled meaning you sometimes can’t get to the toilet in time.

· Overflow incontinence. This happens when the bladder doesn’t empty properly each time you use the loo, causing small amounts to trickle out regularly. If you’ve got this type, which could be caused by a blockage such as bladder stones or, in men, an enlarged prostate, you might constantly feel the need to pee, as your bladder always holds some urine.

But whatever type you have, it can have a huge and negative impact on every aspect of your life.

Many women can lose confidence going in to work, particularly if their job means they don’t have easy access to a toilet. Others stop socialising, going to the gym or having sex because of the fear of leaking. 

And there’s also the emotional impact. 

‘This problem has made me feel old,’ says photographer Andrea, whose bladder weakness began three years ago, aged 40, when she had her son. ‘Not many people know – it’s still quite a secret of mine because I feel embarrassed.’

There is no need to lose confidence or let bladder weakness negatively impact your life. 

There are plenty of simple things you can do to lessen the chance of a leak, and to make sure you feel protected when they do happen. 

Many women use sanitary towels to protect themselves against leaks but these can’t cope with a large amount of urine. So use specialist products like Boots’ Staydry liners, pads and pants which have been specially designed to cope. 

Boots’ Staydry offer many different products that offer different levels of protection, meaning that you can always be assured of being covered – freeing you up to enjoy your life as normal.

You can also try to avoid or cut down on alcohol and coffee – both are diuretics which can irritate the bladder, giving you the urge to go more frequently.

It can also help to give up smoking – which can cause coughing which, in turn, can lead to an accident.

Don’t eat foods such as spicy curries and acidic citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits and pineapple as they can make the symptoms of an overactive bladder worse.

Drink lots of water – it may seem counterintuitive, but it will keep your bladder healthy and mean you will feel the need to urinate less often as drinking more water reduces irritation to the bladder that can be caused by more concentrated urine, and being well hydrated will also reduce the odour of any urine.

Stay healthy – eat a balanced diet, get plenty of exercise (although avoid doing weights as heavy lifting can cause leaks) and lose weight if you need to as that can put pressure on the bladder.

Strengthen your pelvic floor muscles by performing kegel (or pelvic floor) exercises regularly. Boots Staydry have advice on how to increase the strength of these muscles, and have even created a handy instructional video.

Try to train your bladder to last a bit longer by not going to the loo the moment you want to – in time, it could give you those extra few moments you need to reach the toilet.

See your GP if you’re worried – they can offer advice, refer you to a kegel expert, check for any problems and even refer you for an operation if suitable.