If you suffer from incontinence, you may be familiar with the embarrassment of an unexpected accident.
Although urinary incontinence (UI) can feel isolating, it’s a fairly common condition. Approximately one third of older men, and half of all women, will experience bladder leakage problems in their lifetime. It tends to be more common in women, due to the stresses of pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause on the urinary tract and pelvic floor muscles, and can be an unwelcome surprise to many women post-pregnancy.
Luckily, there are ways that can help you to manage your UI symptoms and live your life confidently.
Speak to a medical professional
The prospect of seeking help for UI can be stressful—so much so that in a recent study of incontinent adults, 67% of women did not seek medical care for their symptoms.
It’s important to discuss your UI symptoms with a doctor, as they may help you to understand which type of UI you might have, and discuss treatment options to help you manage the condition; these may include things such as Kegel exercises, which have allegedly shown improvement in UI symptoms for middle-aged women.
The following are the five main types of incontinence to be aware of:
- Stress incontinence is the most common bladder leakage problem in young and middle-aged women, and is characterized by unexpected urine leaks caused by pressure or muscle contractions on the bladder. This can be caused by weak pelvic floor muscles, and may present itself more frequently as a woman enters menopause. Triggers for stress incontinence include coughing, sneezing, and lifting heavy items.
- Urge incontinence, also sometimes referred to as ‘overactive bladder’ or ‘OAB’, is characterized by a sudden urge to urinate, and failure to hold back urine until having reached a bathroom. This type of incontinence is common among people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.
- Functional incontinence is more common among disabled or elderly people, who enjoy otherwise normal bladder control, but have barriers in terms of mobility or cognitive functionality that prevent them from getting to a bathroom in time.
- Overflow incontinence occurs when a bladder does not fully empty, causing a person to experience frequent or constant urine dribbling.
- Mixed incontinence occurs when a person shows symptoms of multiple types of incontinence.
Use the right products
One of your strongest allies in daily UI management is an assortment of purpose-built products designed to contain any bladder leaks as you go about your day.
For lighter, more frequent bladder leakage issues, incontinence underwear may be suitable for you. Designed to look and feel just like normal underwear, specialized incontinence underwear may be worn discreetly under any clothing—even workout leggings!
Incontinence underwear can hold a modest amount of liquid without leaking; check with individual suppliers as to the volume that their products can hold, to ensure that they’re suitable for your needs.
If you have larger bladder leaks, incontinence pads and pull-ups are a more robust option, able to handle considerable volumes of liquid.
Review your eating habits
Some foods, drinks, and medications may exacerbate the symptoms of UI by acting as diuretics, which increase your volume of urine and stimulate your bladder, causing you to urinate more frequently. If you consume a high amount of potentially diuretic products, consider adjusting your diet to help manage your UI symptoms. Carbonated drinks, sparkling water, alcohol, and caffeine products can all act as diuretics, as can artificial sweeteners, chocolates, and foods high in spice, sugar, or acid.
Make sure to discuss any changes to your medication with your GP, as they should be able to advise on the best course of action to take for you personally.
Plan your day
Being aware of your options can allow you to feel confident in your escape plan if you experience a bladder leak. Are there public restrooms? How far are they from your destination? Are there any chain restaurants who don’t limit bathrooms to customers only?
You might also consider limiting your liquid intake if you’re out and about for the day, to minimise the risk of a full bladder making your symptoms harder to control.
It’s important to prevent UI from affecting your personal relationships. Studies have reported that coital incontinence occurs in between 10% and 27% of incontinent women, with 43% of women who experience bladder leakage claiming that their sex lives have been affected by UI.
Urinary incontinence is a common issue, which—with the right know-how—is manageable in your daily life.
If you’re one of the many women living with UI (or know someone who is), there’s no reason to allow bladder leaks to control your life. By taking note of these simple tips and returning to them when you’re unsure, you stand a much better chance of managing your UI and having the freedom to live your life without interruption.