Are you making your incontinence worse?

Urinary incontinence is common, especially among women. If you’re one of the millions dealing with the condition, could you be making your symptoms worse?

When you are dealing with incontinence, the last thing you want to do is make the situation worse. But all too often, our everyday habits can be setting us up to do just that.

So, how can you overhaul your habits and stop being your bladder’s worst enemy? Read on as we take a look.

Defining incontinence

Incontinence is defined as the loss of bladder control. There are two main types — stress incontinence and urge incontinence, with the latter also known as “overactive bladder.”

Urinary incontinence is much more common in women than in men, since women experience pregnancy, childbirth and menopause, which can all make incontinence more likely. But men can also be affected.

If a person is affected by incontinence, he or she may leak urine during normal everyday activities, like bending over or coughing, feel a strong urge to urinate, leak urine without warning, be unable to get to the toilet in time or even wet the bed overnight.

But what exactly causes urinary incontinence? There are a number of potential triggers, many of which are our own lifestyle habits.

Incontinence triggers

While anyone can experience incontinence and it can occur for a variety of reasons, specific instances or “leaks” can often be traced back to a specific trigger. That’s because many of the things that are considered normal parts of our lifestyle, such as the foods we eat, can actually make incontinence worse.

Common triggers include:

  • Caffeinated beverages . Coffee and other caffeine loaded drinks can irritate the bladder. This, in turn, can lead to frequent urination and make leaks and other incontinence issues more frequent.
  • Certain medications. If you’re frequently experiencing incontinence, you may want to talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the medications you’re taking. Some medications, such as those for high blood pressure, diuretics, sleeping pills and antidepressants, can increase the likelihood of experiencing incontinence.
  • Not drinking enough. This may seem like an odd trigger for urinary leakage, but not drinking enough fluids and keeping your body hydrated can indeed be a trigger. When you don’t get enough liquid intake, your urine becomes more concentrated, which is irritating to the bladder and can stimulate incontinence.
  • Excess weight. Carrying even just a few pounds more than your ideal body weight can trigger incontinence in a couple of different ways. First, excess weight can weaken the muscles of the pelvic floor, making it harder to hold in urine. And second, the fatty tissue in your body can put increased pressure on the bladder.
  • Constipation. If you’re experiencing constipation, you may strain to empty your bowels, which over time weakens the pelvic floor muscles. This can also go hand-in-hand with not getting enough fluid intake, since dehydration can lead to constipation.
  • Smoking. Those who smoke often also cough more frequently. The coughing associated with smoking puts stress on the pelvic muscles, which can weaken them.

Habits that can help

While we’ve identified some factors that can make incontinence more likely, there are steps you can take to decrease your risk of leakage and other symptoms:

  • Go before you have to. This one’s pretty simple — don’t hold urine in! Over time, doing so can weaken the pelvic floor. Before you feel the urge to urinate, head to the restroom to empty the bladder, doing this on a timed schedule could help.
  • Do Kegel exercises. In many cases, strengthening the pelvic floor muscles can help alleviate symptoms of urinary incontinence. Kegel exercises can help you flex the muscles and build them up.
  • Avoid caffeine. If you’re experiencing leakage, you may want to limit your consumption of drinks and foods containing caffeine. That’s because caffeine can irritate the bladder, making incontinence worse.
  • Limit alcohol. Limiting alcohol intake can also be helpful. Alcoholic beverages work as a diuretic, which makes you urinate more frequently. Alcohol also contracts and relaxes the detrusor muscle, the muscle that makes up the walls of the bladder and controls the excretion of urine. When that muscle relaxes, urine can leak.
  • Drink up. We mentioned earlier that not drinking enough can irritate the bladder, so make sure to stay well-hydrated. The amount of water you need each day varies from person to person, so keep an eye on your urine to make sure you’re staying hydrated. You want clear to pale yellow urine.

Dr. Henry Okafor is a board-certified, fellowship-trained urologist who specializes in disorders of the female genitourinary system. He specializes in Specializes in Urology Incontinence and Pelvic Reconstruction at Erlanger Urology.

If you’re dealing with incontinence, your doctor can offer solutions that may help alleviate the problem and lessen your symptoms. Talk to your doctor or request an appointment at Erlanger Urology.