What is incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control that leads to accidental urinary leakage. It’s more common in older people (especially women), says The National Institute on Aging.1 It can be embarrassing and uncomfortable to leak urine by accident, but if you have incontinence, you don’t have to stop leading a full, active life. With the right treatment and care, urinary incontinence can be successfully managed. Let’s take a look.
What causes incontinence?
The National Institute on Aging2 describes what happens in the body to cause bladder problems. Urine is stored in the bladder. During urination, muscles in the bladder tighten up to move the urine into the urethra. At the same time, muscles near the urethra relax and allow urine to leave the body. When these muscles don’t work as they should, urine can leak.
The National Institute on Aging3 says short-term incontinence can happen because of:
- Urinary tract infections
- Certain medicines
- Vaginal infection or irritation
The National Institute on Aging4 says long-term incontinence can happen because of:
- Weak bladder muscles
- Overactive bladder muscles
- Damage to nerves that control the bladder from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease
- Pelvic organ prolapse
- Weak pelvic floor muscles
- Blockage from an enlarged prostate in men
Explore your treatment options
Your doctor will discuss which treatment works best for your lifestyle. The National Institute on Aging shares a few options5:
- Explore biofeedback: During a biofeedback session, your doctor will put sensors on your body to help you become more aware of your body’s signals. Awareness can help you regain control over the muscles in your bladder, urethra and pelvic floor.
- Schedule bathroom breaks: With this technique, you urinate on a set schedule. Then, you slowly increase the time between bathroom trips. Combined with biofeedback and Kegels, this can help you control urge and overflow incontinence.
- Tweak your lifestyle: Your doctor might recommend a few things to help with incontinence: lose weight, quit smoking and drink less caffeine and alcohol.
- Medicine might help: Some medicines help the bladder empty more fully during urination; other medicines can help strengthen muscles and diminish leakage. Some women have found success with an estrogen vaginal cream, a small disposable medical device that’s inserted into the urethra or a substance that thickens the area around the urethra to help close the bladder opening.
- Ladies, learn to do a Kegel: Think of Kegel exercises as a workout for your pelvic floor. Mayo Clinic6 explains how to do one: “Imagine you are sitting on a marble and tighten your pelvic muscles as if you're lifting the marble. Try it for three seconds at a time, then relax for a count of three. Repeat three times a day. Aim for at least three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions a day.” Once your pelvic floor muscles get stronger, you’ll be able to hold the urine in your bladder longer.
- Explore surgery: Surgery can change the position of the bladder or blockage due to an enlarged prostate. This can sometimes improve or cure incontinence.
Improve your relationship with your bladder
Unfortunately, you can’t always prevent urinary incontinence. However, the Office on Women's Health7 shares a few tips on how to lower your risk:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat fiber-rich foods to prevent constipation.
- Practice Kegels daily.