If you’ve ever found yourself passing up an opportunity to go out with friends, go for walk in the park with your kids or take a long road trip because of your overactive bladder or urinary incontinence, you’re not alone.
Over 25 million adults in the United States are dealing with the same issue, but you’ll most likely never hear anyone talk about it. Fear of embarrassment leads to hiding the problem or working around it, and most people wait an average of six years before finally seeking treatment. However, working with your doctor to find a solution can help you live a full, happy and active life without the dreaded fear of an unpredictable bladder accident.
“Urinary incontinence is a very common problem, especially among women, who represent 80 percent of the people suffering with the condition,” said Marisa Clifton, M.D., a urologist at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. “The good news is that there are fairly simple solutions that can make a big difference quickly.”
The common causes of urinary incontinence
Understanding what causes your incontinence is the first step in identifying a treatment that will help. Urinary incontinence falls into four general categories:
- Stress incontinence is very common. It is leakage that occurs when there is added pressure on the bladder such as when you laugh, cough, sneeze or lift heavy objects.
- Urge incontinence is sometimes called overactive bladder. It occurs when you feel the urge to urinate and are unable to hold it until you reach a bathroom.
- Overflow incontinence happens when you’re unable to empty your bladder completely, and urine overflows as new urine is produced.
- Functional incontinence occurs when there is a problem getting to the bathroom in time. Typically, this happens in older people or those with physical limitations that prevent them from making it to the bathroom quickly.
“Stress incontinence affects many younger women with weakened pelvic floor muscles, often following childbirth,” said Dr. Clifton. “If you’ve ever experienced leakage after laughing hard or sneezing, you’ve had stress incontinence.”
In addition to childbirth, things like nerve damage, an enlarged prostate in men, chronic bladder inflammation and the side effects of some surgeries can also lead to urinary incontinence.
How to fix incontinence
It’s always important to talk to you doctor first, as they’ll be your best resource for battling incontinence. Your doctor may suggest a conservative approach first, since there are some home remedies that can work.
“In many cases, bladder training will be the first approach we suggest,” said EXPERT. “This involves training the bladder by employing a set urination schedule. For example, you may start by urinating every hour, and then stretch the time between urinations.”
You may also try pelvic muscle exercises, called Kegel exercises, to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. To do these exercises, you contract the muscle used to keep urine in, hold for several seconds and then release for the same amount of time.
If these conservative approaches do not work, your doctor may suggest medication or surgery. Medications help to relax the bladder muscles and stop abnormal contractions that lead to urgency incontinence. Surgery will help to remove blockages that may cause overflow incontinence, or to provide support to the urethra to reduce stress incontinence.
There are also discrete, over-the-counter products like adult undergarments, patches and plugs that can help reduce your symptoms.
“If you’re experiencing incontinence problems, there really is no need to suffer alone,” said Dr. Clifton. “Your doctor can help you find a solution, which will get you back to living the kind of life you’ve been avoiding because of your incontinence.”