Urinary incontinence isn’t a normal part of aging

Do you “leak” when you cough or sneeze? Do you wet yourself when you laugh? Do you look for the location of bathrooms where ever you go? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have urinary incontinence, the inability to hold urine until you can get to a bathroom. While it may be only the occasional leak or a much more severe problem, it is a social and personal hygiene problem that should not be ignored!

Urinary incontinence is defined as the involuntary loss of urine that’s severe enough to have a negative effect on your quality of life, especially in social situations. It can also be a costly problem as adult incontinence products are not inexpensive!

While many believe that this issue is a normal part of aging, that myth couldn’t be farther from the truth. It is NOT a normal part of childbearing or aging. There are many causes of incontinence, some simple and temporary others more involved and long term.

You may have convinced yourself that urinary incontinence is something you just have to learn to live with. That is not the case. Urinary incontinence can be treated. In many cases, it can be eliminated entirely. Proper treatment can ease the discomfort and inconvenience of incontinence and improve quality of life when it can’t be completely eliminated. With today's medical advances, most people with urinary incontinence can be helped in some way. Talk to your doctor. Treatment generally includes a combination of behavior modification and possibly medication.

Urinary incontinence should not be ignored. It can take an emotional toll on the individual affected and their families as well. Embarrassment associated with the condition can lead to social withdrawal, depression, anxiety and sexual dysfunction.

Although urinary incontinence isn't a disease, it often indicates an underlying condition that likely can be treated. A thorough evaluation by your doctor can help determine what's behind your incontinence. Once you've made that important first step to get an evaluation, you'll be well on your way to regaining a more active and confident life.

What can you do on your own to decrease incontinence? Several behavior modification options are available to help control or eliminate incontinence.

Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercises

Your pelvic floor muscles help you hold urine. They can be weakened by pregnancy, prostate surgery or being overweight. You can strengthen them to improve symptoms. The exercises you need to do are called “Kegel” exercises.

How to do Kegel exercises

It takes diligence to identify your pelvic floor muscles and learn how to contract and relax them. Here are some pointers:

  • Find the right muscles. To identify your pelvic floor muscles, stop urination in midstream. If you succeed, you've got the right muscles.

  • Perfect your technique. Once you've identified your pelvic floor muscles, empty your bladder and lie on your back. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for five seconds, and then relax for five seconds. Try it four or five times in a row. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions.

  • Maintain your focus. For best results, focus on tightening only your pelvic floor muscles. Be careful not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs or buttocks. Avoid holding your breath. Instead, breathe freely during the exercises.

  • Repeat 3 times a day. Aim for at least three sets of 10 repetitions a day

Don't make a habit of using Kegel exercises to start and stop your urine stream. Doing Kegel exercises while emptying your bladder can actually weaken the muscles, as well as lead to incomplete emptying of the bladder — which increases the risk of a urinary tract infection.

Limit Liquids after 4pm

Limit caffeinated drinks and alcohol which make you produce more urine! Drinking too much of anything, including water, will fill your bladder and make you feel an urgent need to go. Adults should drink 6-8 glasses of water a day to stay hydrated. Drink your water during the day and cut back after 4pm to help lessen the need to get up during the night to urinate. Not drinking enough water can have a detrimental effect by making urine more concentrated and irritating to the lining of the bladder thus causing more urge!

Set a bathroom schedule

By routinely emptying your bladder, you will have less urgency to void and prevent leakage. Set a time schedule, for example every 2-3 hours or whatever works for your incontinence. Try extending the intervals as you are able. Go every 2 hours to start, the next week extend it to 2 ½ hours and so on. By routinely emptying your bladder you will be able, along with doing Kegel exercises, to retrain your bladder to hold urine.

Wearable devices

Sometimes something as simple as placing a tampon in the vagina to provide some support can prevent leakage. You wouldn’t want to wear it all the time but it can prevent leakage for activities such as running. Remember, you should use no more than 2 tampons a day and change your tampon every 6 hours to prevent toxic shock syndrome.

A device called a pessary might be an option prescribed by your doctor.

Weight Loss

No one wants to hear this option but losing the extra pounds can help as the added weight may be putting pressure on the bladder or urethra causing the problem! Weight loss often helps for incontinence and leaks caused by coughing, laughing, sneezing or lifting.

Diuretic Medications

Just a footnote, if your doctor has prescribed a diuretic for you—do not stop taking it because of incontinence! Make sure you take your medication early in the day so that you are awake to make it to the bathroom. Schedule toileting frequently. Limit fluids after 4pm. While incontinence may be an inconvenience, not taking your medication correctly can be life threatening!

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