For many people, there is a common misperception that urinary incontinence (UI) is an inevitable part of aging. Fortunately, adult diapers and pads are not the only way to deal with UI. In fact, it’s possible to prevent this condition – or at least minimize the problems it causes – before symptoms present themselves.
Millions of Americans, both men and women, experience the inconvenience and embarrassment caused by UI every day. In fact, among people ages 65 and older, 51 percent report experiencing some form of the condition. Suffering from UI means the possibility that urine might leak with every laugh, cough or sneeze – or for no reason at all – is ever-present, which makes people afraid to leave the house and lead normal lives.
It also means losing confidence in your ability to hold your urine once you feel the urge. And it’s not simply an issue of being self-conscious about wet spots on your clothes. When skin comes in prolonged contact with urine, rashes and infections can develop, which can become severe if left untreated.
One of the most common causes of UI is age. As you get older, the muscles that control bladder function weaken, leading to a reduced ability to control urination. Other potential causes include:
- Urinary tract or vaginal infection
- Nerve damage caused by an injury or chronic neuropathy
- Excessive consumption of caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners and carbonated drinks
- Taking some heart and blood pressure medications, sedatives and muscle relaxers
- Enlarged prostate or prostate cancer
- Neurological disorders
- Weight gain
What You Can Do To Prevent Urinary Incontinence
While UI may not be completely preventable in all cases, there are a few behavioral steps you can take to reduce your risk and minimize the symptoms. For example, learning how to do pelvic floor muscle exercises, also known as Kegel exercises, can strengthen the muscles that control urination.
Additional prevention measures include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight. Because most excess weight is carried in your midsection, the added pounds apply pressure to all your internal organs, including the bladder, which makes it more likely to leak.
- Giving up cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes causes you to cough frequently, which involves tightening the muscles in your core to push air out through the throat and mouth. This can also accidentally push urine out through the urethra.
- Avoiding food and drinks that irritate the bladder. Diuretics like alcohol and caffeine cause you to have the urge to urinate, even for people who don’t have UI. Additionally, many types of food and drink are known to irritate the bladder, such as carbonated drinks, spicy foods, artificial sweeteners, raw onion and processed foods.
- Limiting highly acidic foods. These include chocolate, citrus fruits, pineapples, tomatoes, and cranberries, which can also irritate the bladder.
- Eating a lot of fiber. Fiber helps you avoid constipation, which eases the pressure on your bladder.
If you experience symptoms of UI, such as frequent urges to urinate or occasional leaking, it’s important to know that there are many ways to treat the condition, ranging from modifications to your diet and behavior to structured bladder training and Kegel exercises. Doctors may also prescribe one or more medications that can calm an overactive bladder and reduce the urge to urinate. And depending on what’s causing the condition, there may be surgical options available.
Unfortunately, many people who suffer from UI don’t seek medical treatment. In fact, it’s a common myth that incontinence is simply a normal part of aging that you just have to learn to live with. The good news is that there’s no need to suffer the emotional and physical problems that tend accompany UI. Our physicians will be happy to meet with you and discuss your condition, including options that may be available for treatment. Just contact us to schedule an appointment at one of our three convenient locations.