What is urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control (leaking pee). The two most common types of urinary incontinence that affect women are stress incontinence and urge incontinence, also called overactive bladder. Incontinence affects twice as many women as men. This may be because pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause may make urinary incontinence more likely. Urinary incontinence is not a normal part of aging, and it can be treated.
What causes urinary incontinence?
Problems during labor and childbirth, especially vaginal birth, can weaken pelvic floor muscles and damage the nerves that control the bladder. Most problems with bladder control that happen as a result of labor and delivery go away after the muscles have had some time to heal. If you’re still having bladder problems 6 weeks after childbirth, talk to your doctor, nurse, or midwife.
Your doctor or nurse may suggest some things you can do at home to help treat urinary incontinence. Some people do not think that such simple actions can treat urinary incontinence. But for many women, these steps make urinary incontinence go away entirely, or help leak less urine. These steps may include:
- Doing Kegel exercises. If you have stress incontinence, Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles may help. Some women have urinary symptoms because the pelvic floor muscles are always tightened. In this situation, Kegel exercises will not help your urinary symptoms and may cause more problems. Talk to your doctor or nurse about your urinary symptoms before doing Kegel exercises.
- Training your bladder. You can help control overactive bladder or urge incontinence by going to the bathroom at set times. Avoid going to the toilet “just in case” or more often than every 2 hours. Start by tracking how often you go to the bathroom each day in a bladder diary. Then slowly add about 15 minutes between bathroom visits. Doing kegels and distracting yourself can help delay the urge to go. Urinate each time, even if you do not feel the urge to go. By gradually increasing the amount of time between visits, your bladder learns to hold more urine before it signals the need to go again.
- Maintain a good fluid intake. Depending on your body size and environment, drink 6-8 cups (8 ounces each) of fluid per day unless otherwise advised by your doctor. Not enough fluid creates a foul odor and dark color of urine.
- Losing weight. Extra weight puts more pressure on your bladder and nearby muscles, which can lead to problems with bladder control. If you have overweight, your doctor or nurse can help you create a plan to lose weight by choosing healthy foods and getting regular physical activity. Your doctor or nurse may refer you to a dietitian or physical therapist to create a healthy eating and exercise plan.
- Changing your eating habits. Food that is very acidic and drinks with caffeine, carbonation (such as sodas), or alcohol may make bladder leakage or urinary incontinence worse. Your doctor might suggest that you stop drinking these drinks for a while to see if that helps.
- Quitting smoking. Smoking can make many health problems, including urinary incontinence, worse.
- Treating constipation. Your doctor might recommend that you eat more fiber, since constipation can make urinary incontinence worse. Eating foods with a lot of fiber can make you less constipated. This places less pressure on the bladder and can ease some of your symptoms.
You can also buy pads or protective underwear while you take other steps to treat urinary incontinence. These are sold in many stores that also sell feminine hygiene products like tampons and pads.
If these steps do not improve your symptoms, your doctor or nurse may recommend other treatments depending on whether you have stress incontinence or urge incontinence or both.
Be patient as you work with your doctor or nurse on a treatment plan. It may take a month or longer for different treatments to begin working.