Incontinence can be embarrassing, stressful and damaging to your quality of life, but there are ways to manage it. The most common type of urinary incontinence in women is stress incontinence—a leak that happens during some kind of physical activity, from simply sneezing or laughing to working out. There are many treatment options, and the right one for you will depend on how severe your condition is and how much it gets in the way of living the life you want. In some situations, surgery may help, and there are medications that may ease symptoms. But there are also lifestyle changes and habits that you can try on your own while using incontinence products to catch any leaks.
Among the most common lifestyle changes suggested is watching your liquid intake. For instance, cut back if you drink more than you really need to and avoid beverages with caffeine and alcohol, two substances that cause many people to urinate more. Cutting out or cutting back on citrus juices (and fruits) and carbonated beverages like soda may also help. These all seem to irritate the bladder. However, you don’t want to risk dehydration and good health by reducing beverages, especially water, in extreme ways.
Another strategy is to improve elimination habits—schedule regular and frequent trips to the toilet to empty your bladder, and increase fiber in your diet to avoid constipation.
If exercise causes leaking, you might want to replace any activities that involve jumping or running with cycling, spinning or swimming. Another option is to wear discreet adult pads in your underwear to contain any leaks. Many incontinence products are made just for a woman’s body and needs.
Recent studies have shown that, if you’re carrying extra pounds, losing weight can significantly improve stress incontinence. And it’s a treatment of urinary incontinence that has overall health benefits, like helping prevent diabetes and easing arthritis pain. According to a study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology that involved women with 10 or more incontinence episodes per week, losing just 5 to 10 percent of their bodyweight was enough to bring noticeable benefits. Based on diaries the participants kept, their use of adult pads and their satisfaction levels, the women reported at least 70 percent fewer incontinence episodes.
Finally, training your pelvic muscles by doing Kegel exercises may help prevent leaks. The exercises involve contracting and holding the muscles that surround the bladder, uterus and bowel (you can feel them when you try to hold the flow of urine).
You can do Kegels up to five times a day, but always empty your bladder first. To do one repetition, simply tighten the pelvic floor muscles and hold for a count of 10, and then relax them for a count of 10. Do a total of 10 repetitions each time. Because no one can see you doing Kegels, you can practice them virtually anywhere. However, a good way to work them into your daily routine is to do them right after urinating. You should see some results after six weeks and more noticeable improvement after two or three months. Remember to be consistent. If you’re not sure that you’re doing them correctly, ask your ob-gyn.