Urinary incontinence—the loss of bladder control—is an embarrassing but common problem. At least 13 million Americans experience bladder leakage, which can range from a tiny dribble when laughing or sneezing, to an urge so strong and sudden that you can’t make it to the toilet. Of those 13 million people, 85% are women; and though it happens more with age, some people grow old without ever having problems with bladder control.
However, if incontinence affects your daily activities, don't hesitate to see your doctor. For most people, lifestyle changes or medical treatment can ease discomfort or even stop incontinence altogether. If lifestyle changes don't help, options like physical therapy or even surgery can bring you relief. The subject may be uncomfortable to discuss but an honest report of your symptoms is critical, as it may be a sign of a more serious condition.
10 tips to make incontinence easier
For those who have had at least one incident of incontinence, there are a few tips that can help:
- Limit your intake of sparkling water, caffeinated drinks, and alcohol. These drinks are diuretics that increase the volume of urine that your body creates.
- Lose some weight. If you are overweight, you may lose strength in your pelvic floor muscles, which control urination. Dropping a few pounds can also help reduce fatty tissue that can squeeze the bladder and create a sense of urgency.
- Skip heavy lifting. Lifting something heavy, like a grandchild or an overloaded bag of groceries, puts pressure on the pelvic floor muscles. When you do have to lift, try tightening those muscles before and during the action.
- Quit smoking. Smoking can lead to bladder control problems because it results in more coughing and pelvic floor muscle strain.
- Avoid sugar substitutes. Sweeteners, such as aspartame and sodium saccharine, can cause bladder irritation and act as diuretics, making incontinence worse.
- Simmer the spice, cut the citrus. Spicy and acidic foods can irritate the bladder. Try eliminating all citrus and spicy-hot foods and sauces for 2 weeks to see if it impacts you.
- Get an annual physical. Incontinence can be the first symptom of an enlarged prostate in men and a prolapsed or dropped pelvic floor in women. There are dozens of other health factors that impact urinary health too.
- Find your muscles and squeeze. Your pelvic floor muscles are the ones you use to start or stop the flow of urine. You can squeeze these muscles when you are not going to the bathroom to strengthen them. Hold each contraction for 5-10 seconds and do up to 30 contractions twice a day. These exercises can be performed while driving, watching TV, or standing in line.
- Try Pilates. Pilates has been shown to be effective at strengthening your pelvic floor and other core muscles too.
- Go shopping. A new generation of products can help you feel more comfortable and confident. These include pads, briefs, collection bags, and compression support products. Your doctor can advise about the products that will work best for you.
According to the American Urological Association, between a quarter and a third of all Americans experience incontinence. While these tips can help you cope with occasional leaks, they don’t replace a discussion with your doctor at your next checkup or even a dedicated visit to discuss your incontinence.