How To Treat Urinary Incontinence
Treatment for urinary incontinence is a broad topic; there are many different kinds of female urinary incontinence and there is no one “quick fix” treatment.
Key to understanding treatment options is to understand the kind of urinary incontinence you’re experiencing. While they all manifest the same way (the involuntary leakage of urine), they can have radically different explanations and, therefore, treatment options.
Think of urinary incontinence like a tummy ache or a headache. A tummy ache can be temporary because you just ate too much pasta. Or it can point to a wide range of other causes, from appendicitis to more serious conditions. There is no one cure for a tummy ache—it is a symptom, not a diagnosis. Urinary incontinence is similar.
Key Facts About Urinary Incontinence in Women
- Of the 25 million adult Americans suffering from some form of urinary incontinence, 75-80% of those are women (source).
- Urinary incontinence affects 200 million people worldwide. (National Association for Incontinence)
- About 1 in 3 women suffer from SUI or stress incontinence at some point in their lives. Urinary incontinence increases with age. Over half of women with stress incontinence also have OAB (overactive bladder). (Urology Care Foundation)
- 50% of people afflicted with urinary incontinence do not seek help (Ian Milsom, Gothenburg Continence Research Center)
So, What Are the Different Types of Urinary Incontinence?
So, it’s important to look beyond the urine leakage and get to possible causes by understanding the type of urinary incontinence that you might be experiencing:
Type of Incontinence
How / When it Manifests
Some Possible Causes
Treatment May Include
Stress incontinence is urine loss during physical exertion, whether it be exercise or more physical reactions like coughing, sneezing, laughing etc.
An impossible-to-ignore urge to urinate, even if you just went or felt fine just minutes before.
A combination of stress and urge incontinence.
If the flow of urine “dribbles” or is unsteady, you may have overflow incontinence. The inability to completely empty your bladder can lead it to overflow and cause unexpected urine leaks.
This is when you experience urine loss, but the cause is not associated with any problems with the urinary system.
What About *Temporary* Urinary Incontinence?
Urinary incontinence can sometimes be a temporary thing and you can simply wait it out. (The one exception is a UTI, which does require medical treatment). Let’s look at the possible causes of sudden, but temporary, incontinence:
- Drinking certain beverages (or generally too much): Bladder control issues can be brought on by consumption (or over-consumption) of certain foods and drinks, including alcohol, caffeine, carbonated drinks.
- Hot and spicy foods: Spicy foods or foods high in sugar or acid (like citrus fruits) can cause bladder control issues. If you notice consuming (or excess consumption) of certain foods coinciding with incidents of urine leakage or an increased urge to urinate you may want to adjust your diet.
- Medications: Temporary incontinence can also be caused by certain medications. Blood pressure medication, for example, can make you pee more often. Certain sedatives and muscle relaxants can also cause incontinence. Your pharmacist will probably discuss these possible side effects when you pick up your medication. If it’s to be a long term prescription, do discuss the side effects you experience with your doctor as they may offer alternatives..
- Pregnancy and childbirth: Pregnant women often experience incontinence or light bladder leaks which are temporary and usually resolve after the baby is born. This is because the growing baby puts pressure on your bladder, and also because hormonal changes cause the pelvic floor muscles to relax. Read more about pregnancy incontinence here.
- Urinary tract infections: A urinary tract infection (UTI) may cause incontinence and certainly warrants a trip to the doctor. Other symptoms of a UTI include a burning sensation when you pee or blood in your pee.
Why it’s Important to Seek Medical Advice
As you can see, urinary incontinence is a complex thing, with many possible explanations. While you might have an inkling which explanation accounts for your own experience, it’s really safest to consult with your doctor and seek a medical diagnosis. After all, why rely on your own guesswork?
While it’s likely that your doctor will reassure you the experience is pretty common and start by recommending some of the lifestyle changes and exercises we go into in the next section, they’ll also help with bladder control issues in 2 important ways:
- Ruling out more serious conditions (the kinds of things “Dr Google” loves to give you nightmares about!)
- Guidance on medical treatments for bladder control beyond changes you can make yourself, which might be worth exploring if your condition is more persistent.
Basically: Don’t suck up the anxiety, guesswork and fingers-crossed-it-goes-away approach. Go see your doctor, get some reassurance and support and then make an informed decision with all the facts.
6 Things All Women Can Do to Help Urinary Incontinence
1. Reduce Your Risk Factors
Urinary incontinence affects a great number of women, at every age, life stage and with all kinds of medical history. A lot of the risk factors (e.g. past pregnancy and childbirth trauma, or surgical history) are not things you can impact.
However, some of the risk factors can be addressed with lifestyle changes. These include:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Quitting smoking
If you plan on making changes to either of these things, know that there are no guarantees that incontinence will disappear as a result. However, your overall health will likely benefit if you can maintain these changes long term.
If you plan on making a major lifestyle change, such as weight loss or giving up cigarettes, we recommend chatting with your doctor about realistic goals and expectations and making sure your approach is healthy.
2. Adjust Your Diet and Beverage Intake
Regardless of weight, you can also adjust what you eat and when you eat it. The following foods and beverages can irritate the bladder, causing involuntary urine leakage. If you notice patterns in your food and drink consumption that correspond with leaks, avoiding those foods will help avoid leaks.
Foods to avoid include:
- Sweeteners, including corn syrup, honey and artificial sweeteners
- Spicy foods
- Acidic foods, like citrus fruits and tomatoes
Beverages to avoid include:
- Carbonated beverages
If you’re not ready to abstain completely from these ingredients, be more mindful when and where you consume them, especially closer to bedtime.
3. Try Pelvic Floor Muscle Training to Strengthen Pelvic Floor Muscles
Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. Kegel or pelvic floor exercises can be done any time, either sitting or lying down.You can even do them when you are eating, sitting at your desk, or when you are resting.
If you’re unsure how to do Kegel exercises, your doctor, physical therapist or physiotherapist can help you. But basically it’s like pretending you have to urinate and then holding it. You relax and tighten the muscles that control urine flow.
One way to learn the muscles you should activate is to pay attention when you pee:
- Start to pee and then stop.
- You should feel the muscles in your vagina (for women), bladder, and anus get tight and move up. These are the pelvic floor muscles.
- If you feel them tighten, you have done the pelvic floor muscle training right. Your thighs, buttock muscles, and abdomen should remain relaxed.
4. Take Preventative Measures Against Urinary Tract Infections
Incontinence is one symptom of urinary tract infection (UTI). Another symptom is a stinging or burning sensation when you pee and a decreased or irregular flow of urine. If you experience this, you should visit your doctor. UTIs are treated with antibiotics for 3 to 7 days.
Ways to prevent UTIs include:
- Drink plenty of water
- Urinate before and after having sex
- Wipe from front to back after you pee
- Wear breathable, natural underwear and clothing, changing your underwear daily
5. Eat Plenty of Fibre to Avoid Constipation
Straining on the toilet can weaken (or further weaken) your pelvic floor muscles. So it’s best to make sure your diet is rich in fibre to avoid constipation. Exercise (even the gentlest of walks done regularly) can also help prevent constipation.
If you find yourself straining to empty your bowels, it may also be the way you’re sitting or the muscles you’re using. Speciality physiotherapists can help with this.
6. Try Bladder Training and/or Double Voiding
Bladder training involves taking bathroom breaks at regularly timed intervals. By ensuring your bladder is emptied frequently, you minimize the chances of leakages. Over time, the duration of time between breaks can be increased.
You can also try double voiding: Before bedtime, go to the bathroom and then wait 10 minutes (perhaps brush your teeth etc. in the interim) and then pee again. Using the bathroom several times before bed will help ensure your bladder is empty.
Other Treatments Your Doctor Might Explore
Beyond these lifestyle changes and depending on the severity of your case, your doctor might want to explore more medical treatments. These may include:
- Vaginal pessary or urinary insert
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Surgical options for urinary incontinence may include:
- Sling procedure
- Injectable bulking agents
- Retropubic colposuspension
The sling procedure is the most common surgical procedure performed in women with stress urinary incontinence. This procedure entails the surgeon using the person's own tissue, synthetic material, or donor tissue to create a ‘sling’ or hammock that supports the urethra. Learn more about it from the Mayo Clinic.
Surgery often offers a more long term solution to involuntary urine leaks. However, as with any surgery, there are risks to explore and you might want to try exploring other options before you undergo surgery.
Incontinence Shouldn’t Ruin Your Life
Incontinence can cause stress and embarrassment. But it really doesn’t need to ruin your life.
No matter what the changes or treatments you explore, they will likely take a while to show any effect. So, while you wait, you can also explore products to help you stay active and social. Leakproof underwear comes with different absorbency levels.
Super absorbent Knix Leakproof Underwear can hold up to 8 tsp of liquid (whether that’s sweat, blood or urine). Products like these can be a game changer for those experiencing female urinary incontinence, allowing them to remain active and social while exploring treatment options.
Incontinence is not an easy thing to experience, but there are treatment options and lifestyle changes that can make it easier to live with incontinence.