Urinary Incontinence: What You Need to Know to Treat and Prevent It

7 minute read

Urinary incontinence is uncontrollable urine leakage. Sadly, there isn’t anything good to say about it. Despite this, there are things you should know about this condition because it affects close to one-third of all Americans. 

It can be embarrassing to discuss with your doctor, so many avoid it, and this is not a good idea. Discussing and learning about urinary incontinence can help you prepare as well as relieve symptoms.

The Truth Behind Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is not actually a condition, but rather a symptom of another problem. It can affect both men and women, but in general, more women experience urinary incontinence. 

The main reason thought to be behind this is that pregnancy and childbirth is a major cause of the loss of urinary control. Childbirth weakens bladder muscles, and causes protrusions that increase pressure on the bladder. Both lead to urinary incontinence.

The other potential reasons that you can develop urinary incontinence include:

Getting older: As you get older, muscles in general weaken, and this includes bladder muscles, so your bladder loses the ability to store as much urine as before.

Menopause: Women produce less estrogen after menopause. This hormone helps the bladder to stay healthy. As a result, tissues can deteriorate, which can aggravate incontinence.

Hysterectomy: The uterus and bladder are supported by many of the same ligaments and muscles. Any changes to the reproductive system, such as a hysterectomy, can disrupt the bladder as the result of a weakened pelvic floor. This causes incontinence.

Obstruction: A tumor along the urinary tract can block the flow of urine, which means you get overflow and then incontinence. Urinary stones can also block flow, causing leakage.

Neurological disorders: Diseases that interfere with nerve signals, such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, stroke, spinal injury, or brain tumor, can disrupt urinary function and control.

When it comes to incontinence, there are specific forms you might feel. The general loss of bladder control and leakage is the same for everyone, but the type of incontinence can vary from person to person. 

Some may feel an urgent need to urinate all the time and accidentally leak. Others will leak as a result of stress, such as sneeze, laugh, or cough. A leak may also result from not being able to fully empty your bladder at times.

What to Do About Urinary Incontinence

Depending on the underlying cause, there are treatment options available. This is why it is essential to get beyond the embarrassment and discuss it with your doctor. 

Medications are available to relax an overactive bladder and estrogen cream can help women after menopause. You can also get urethral inserts that act as plugs to prevent leaks or bulking materials that help keep the urethra closed. 

There are also potential surgeries your doctor may recommend if the other treatment options do not work. Prolapse surgery helps to place your bladder back into its normal position if it has weakened and moved. 

Bladder neck suspension raises the neck of your bladder, supporting it to prevent leakage where it attaches to the urethra. Doctors may also insert slings to help keep the urethra closed when pelvic floor muscles have become weak.

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Outside of medical treatment and surgery, there are lifestyle changes you can also try to reduce the symptoms of urinary incontinence. 

Pelvic Floor Exercises

There are a number of pelvic floor exercises you can try to help build strength back in the weakened muscles. Speak with your doctor about these and make sure you do them correctly, and you can help to significantly reduce leakage. Take note that you need to typically perform these exercises for about three months before you will see the benefits.

Lose Weight

Being overweight is generally bad for your health, and it can put additional pressure on your pelvic floor muscles. The more fatty tissue accumulates around the bladder the more pressure your bladder feels, and the more likely leaks will occur. 

By losing weight, you may notice that the leaks become minimized or could even go away completely.

Cut Out Certain Drinks

Caffeine can irritate your bladder, which will make incontinence worse. Coffee is the biggest culprit, but energy drinks and sodas, as well as some teas, also contain caffeine. 

Stop drinking caffeinated drinks completely or limit them to help reduce leakage. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it promotes urination, so cutting back on alcohol consumption can also reduce the risk for leaks.

Drink Water

While this may seem counter-intuitive, drinking water can help prevent constipation, which makes incontinence worse. Many people with urinary incontinence avoid drinking water, but limiting water consumption makes things worse by reducing your bladder’s capacity.

Drink between six and eight glasses a day unless your doctor tells you otherwise.

Treat Constipation

As mentioned, constipation makes incontinence worse, as straining your bowels weakens pelvic floor muscles. Try eating more fiber and changing your diet to encourage more regular bowel movements and of course drink plenty of water and never delay the urge to empty your bowels.

Eat the Right Foods

While fiber can help prevent constipation, which will help reduce incontinence, there are also other dietary changes you should be aware of. Spicy and acidic foods, such as curries or citrus fruits, aggravate your bladder, making leaks more common and incontinence symptoms worse. Cutting these foods from your diet will help to relieve symptoms and give you more control over your bladder. 

The Bottom Line

Urinary incontinence can affect your life, your work, and your social interactions. It is important to reach out to your doctor if you feel this is a problem to discuss treatment options and things you can try at home to relieve symptoms. 

With the right knowledge and the right changes to your life, you can live more comfortably with urinary incontinence. Don’t let it be an embarrassment that keeps you from enjoying life. Take control back and start treating urinary incontinence today.

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