Like it or not, urinary incontinence is a fact of life for many people. It can happen as we get older, and for women during pregnancy or after birth, even as the result of a persistent cough. What can you do to take control?
For answers, WebMD went to the American Urological Association and Craig Comiter, MD, associate professor of urology at Stanford University School of Medicine. Here are their tips on how to take matters into your own hands — and make living with urinary incontinence a lot easier.
Which Type of Urinary Incontinence Do You Have?
Urinary incontinence (UI) is the involuntary loss of urine and “it’s a common condition” in men and women of all ages, says the American Urological Association. The two main types of urinary incontinence are:
- Stress incontinence, which can cause leakage when you cough, sneeze, exercise, laugh, or strain to lift something heavy.
- Urge incontinence, which is an unexpected, sudden urge to urinate, one that’s so strong it can be hard to reach the bathroom in time.
No matter which type of urinary incontinence you have, simple behavioral tips can help you deal day to day.
8 Quick Tips for Coping With Urinary Incontinence
1. Do Kegel Exercises. An important urinary incontinence treatment, Kegels are especially effective for women with mild symptoms, says Comiter. “I would advocate Kegel exercises as the most commonly used initial treatment.”
Kegels are simple to do: Simply clench and unclench your pelvic floor muscles. Which muscles are those? Next time you pee, stop the stream of urine midway. Presto! You’ve just found your pelvic floor muscles and done your first Kegel.
But don’t make a habit of stopping your urine when you pee, as it can actually weaken muscles. Do Kegels anywhere and everywhere else, though: while online, on hold, or in the car. Start by clenching your pelvic floor muscles for three seconds, then release for three. Repeat ten times. As you develop strength over time, aim to hold the muscles for ten seconds and release for ten.
2. Stick to a Pee Schedule. Don’t feel like you need to go? Head to the bathroom anyway. Why? Timed urination helps keep the bladder empty, Comiter tells WebMD, and “empty bladders cannot leak.” It might take a little time to discern the schedule that’s best for you, but Comiter recommends starting with a timed urination every one to two hours.
3. Fill the Void. And don’t be in a hurry when you’re in the bathroom. Take your time in there and after you’ve finished urinating, relax a bit and then urinate again — this practice, called double voiding, helps really empty the bladder.
4. Keep the Path Clear. Having accidents before you make it to the bathroom? It’s time to clear your path of obstacles so you can get there faster. And then help yourself once you’re there by wearing easy-to-release clothes — think elastic waistbands and Velcro closures.
5. Cool It on the Caffeine. As much as you may love your java, or crave a cola come 3 p.m., you’re doing yourself no favor by drinking caffeine-rich beverages like coffee, tea, and carbonated drinks. To help control urinary incontinence, eliminate these diuretics — or at least cut back.
6. Drink Up — But Not Too Much. Your body needs fluids, so be sure to drink enough to stay well hydrated. Drink about two quarts (eight cups) to keep your bladder and kidneys healthy.
7. Watch for Medication Side Effects. Talk with your physician to make sure you’re not taking any prescription or over-the-counter drugs that could be making your urinary incontinence worse. If you are — and need those medicines — Comiter suggests you “stay close to home (near a bathroom) for a few hours after taking a diuretic” drug.
8. The Tampon Tip. Women can try wearing a tampon to help control leaks when they jog, run, dance or do other energetic activities. The tampon puts a bit of pressure on your urethra, helping to prevent leakage.
5 Long-Term Tips for Coping With Urinary Incontinence
Managing urinary incontinence is a long-term issue for most people. Be sure you’re doing all you can to make things easier. Some long-term tips include:
1. Talk to Your Doctor. Don’t be shy! Get your physician or urologist on your side. Your doctor can help you find the best treatment for your urinary incontinence.
2. Change Your Diet. A cup of coffee and juice in the morning, a soda with lunch, a few beers or glasses of wine with dinner — it can really add up. Fluid management can be critical in controlling urinary incontinence long term. But you’re body does need fluids. Before making big changes, talk to your doctor.
3. Lose Weight. Weight loss hasn’t definitively been shown to help UI, Comiter tells WebMD, just as being overweight hasn’t been shown to cause incontinence. “However, obesity can lead to diabetes, which can lead to urinary incontinence.”
4. Quit Smoking. While obviously a health hazard, smoking isn’t a strong risk factor for urinary incontinence, Comiter says. But if smoking is causing you to cough, this could be exacerbating your leakage. Chalk this one up as another reason to quit.
5. Medication and Surgery. Both stress incontinence and urge incontinence can be treated with medication, though behavioral therapies like the tips above are often more effective. Surgery is mainly an option for stress incontinence though — as with medication — it may not be the most effective initial treatment for UI. Talk with your doctor to learn more about these options.
All of these tips can help you cope with urinary incontinence, though for day-to-day management Comiter says two of the best tips are also the simplest: Kegel exercises and time urination.
“They are inexpensive, risk free, and if they work in the short term, [they] should work in the long term — especially in patients with mild symptoms.”
By Wendy C. Fries
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