Urinary incontinence can be caused by many things, including medication, childbirth, and lifestyle activities, and it tends to affect women more than men. One of the most common causes is age. As we get older, some of the body’s muscles and organs begin to weaken or relax. When that happens to the bladder and the muscles around it, urine leaks may occur. Here are some things women can do to manage the problem.
Overall physical fitness can help to control urinary incontinence by strengthening and firming your body and helping to regulate hormone production. The bladder and pelvic floor muscles may also be better able to restrict urine leakage as a result. Additionally, if you are overweight or obese, it may simply be that the extra weight is putting unnecessary pressure on your bladder. Regular exercise and a healthy and balanced diet can help you lose weight. You can ask your doctor to recommend exercises that you are able to do in your current health and physical condition.
While overall fitness can help, you may find that specific exercises for this part of the body, such as Kegels, can improve urine retention and bladder control to help prevent leaks even more.
Kegel exercises can be done nearly anywhere. The most difficult part of doing them is isolating the pelvic floor muscle group. To find it, think of stopping urination mid-flow. The muscles that tense for this are the muscles you want to focus on. Keep in mind that you should avoid stopping urination before the bladder is empty; repeatedly doing so could damage the bladder or lead to infections. When you’ve isolated the pelvic floor muscles, practice flexing them. You can do this in fast or slow sets, or a mixture of both throughout the day.
For quick sets, flex the pelvic floor then immediately release. No other muscles—such as in your stomach, back, or legs—should tense. For a slow set, flex the same muscles, then hold that flex for ten seconds before releasing. Like any new exercise, these may be a little harder to do when you start. You can repeat either the fast or slow flexes ten times in a set, then rest. You can do sets a few times a day. Try doing them standing, sitting, laying down, or a combination. Do whatever you are comfortable with.
In addition to doing exercises, you may be able to retrain your bladder to be able to more comfortably wait to use the restroom. Usually, this process will start with keeping a diary of how often you go to the restroom. Then, with that in mind, you can start stretching the time between bathroom visits. Look at how long you go between bathroom visits on average. Then, work on stretching that time. Start with small increments—just 10 or 15 minutes. When you start to get comfortable with that, increase it again. Most people urinated six to eight times a day, depending on how well hydrated they stay. Work on stretching time between bathroom visits to three to four hours.
With some types of bladder leakage, a doctor might be able to prescribe medication to reduce the urgency of frequent urination that often leads to leakage. Just as water pills can cause you to urinate more often to eliminate extra, unneeded fluid in your body, other medications can help you to have greater control over when and how much you urinate. Although this option isn’t for everyone, you may be eligible to give it a try, so talk to your physician.
There are different types of medications to try. Anticholinergics block signals from an overactive bladder. Others, including Mirabegron and Botox help relax your bladder so that you can hold more urine and go less regularly. Estrogen treatments can help rebuild supportive muscle around your bladder. These and several other types of medications can greatly decrease urinary incontinence.
There are simple things you can do to address the problem daily. Eat plenty of fruits and veggies that contain phytoestrogens, which may increase muscle elasticity that enables you to have greater control. Decrease your intake of fluids about two hours before bedtime to avoid a pressing need to urinate in the middle of the night. Avoid substances like caffeine that have a diuretic effect on the body. Tobacco and alcohol use may contribute to the problem, so avoid these as well.
If exercise, lifestyle changes, and medication have not worked, you may need to look into surgical options. While this is a more invasive option than some other treatments, it can provide more long-term relief. There are several different types of surgery your doctor may recommend, and the type they choose will depend on the type of incontinence you experience.
Several options involve supporting your bladder or urethra to keep them from sagging. These are often for stress or overflow incontinence. Often these require a sling or reinforcement. These supports help keep your bladder from leaking when you sneeze or laugh or throughout the day.
In some cases, the nerves that are meant to alert you to a full bladder may be overactive, telling you that you need to go to the bathroom when you don’t. In these cases, your doctor may instead recommend procedures that stimulate those nerves. This may include an implant that blocks these overactive signals, or it may involve weekly sessions.
Although incontinence pads or special underwear do not cure urinary incontinence, they provide protection and eliminate embarrassing odors until the problem is fixed. Get the right size of pads to fit your body shape, and change them every few hours to avoid a possible leak or the buildup of bacteria. Hopefully, you can restore urinary control through one of the above methods. Until you do or even if you do not, the incontinence pads will keep you dry and clean.
A leaky bladder is common for a high percentage of women who are middle aged or older. Try the above tips to prevent or treat the problem, and work with your doctor as needed. It may be an embarrassing problem to talk about, but ignoring it will only make it worse.