Simple Solutions That Can Help You Avoid Urinary Incontinence

Behavioral options that can help you to keep leakage at bay
Simple Solutions That Can Help You Avoid Urinary Incontinence

By: Holly L. Thacker, MD

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Millions of women experience involuntary loss of urine called urinary incontinence. Some women may lose a few drops of urine while running or coughing. Others may feel a strong, sudden urge to urinate just before losing a large amount of urine. Many women experience both symptoms.

Urinary incontinence can be slightly bothersome or totally debilitating. For some women, the risk of public embarrassment keeps them from enjoying many activities with their family and friends. Urine loss also can occur during sexual activity and cause tremendous emotional distress.

If you’re experiencing urinary incontinence, know that it is a medical problem and quite common among women. Your doctor or nurse can help you find a solution.

It’s also important to see your doctor to be examined for any bladder issues to be sure the problem is not related to pelvic masses or other conditions.

RELATED: Urinary Leakage Is Not a Normal Part of Aging

Why urinary incontinence happens

Incontinence occurs because of problems with muscles and nerves in the pelvic floor that help to hold or release urine. You can have your women’s health care provider assess your pelvic tone during your pelvic exam.

Women experience urinary incontinence twice as often as men because of pregnancy, childbirth, menopause or structure of the female urinary tract. Other factors that can influence the strength of the pelvic floor include genetic factors, diet, weight, bowel function, surgical procedures and medical conditions.

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Older women experience urinary incontinence more often than younger women. But incontinence is not inevitable with age.

Men can develop urinary incontinence as well. Men and women can both develop the condition from neurologic injury, birth defects, stroke, multiple sclerosis and the physical problems associated with aging.

Obesity, which is associated with increased abdominal pressure, can worsen incontinence. Fortunately, weight loss can reduce its severity.

RELATED: Men: Don’t Let Incontinence Slow You Down


Remedies for urinary incontinence can include medications and surgery.

One new option is combination stimulation and biofeedback therapy. This treatment involves a custom-fit device that you use at home. The device uses stimulation to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and inhibit your overactive bladder muscles, while giving visual biofeedback and audible guidance. Precise adjustments can be made to ensure effective muscle training.

But you may want to try behavioral options first. Two of these options to talk over with your doctor include bladder retraining and Kegel exercises.

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In bladder retraining, you use the bathroom at regular timed intervals, a habit called timed voiding. As you gain control, you can extend the time between your scheduled trips to the bathroom.

Kegel exercises strengthen the muscles that help hold in urine.

RELATED: Incontinence? Sling Removes Your Fear of Sudden Sneeze

How to do Kegel exercises

It’s important for women to learn Kegel exercises — and you should do them even while you’re pregnant.

  • The first step is to find the right muscles. One way to find them is to imagine that you are sitting on a marble and want to pick up the marble with your vagina. Imagine sucking or drawing the marble into your vagina.
  • Try not to squeeze other muscles at the same time. Be careful not to tighten your stomach, legs, or buttocks. Squeezing the wrong muscles can put more pressure on your bladder control muscles. Just squeeze the pelvic muscles. Don’t hold your breath. Do not practice while urinating.
  • Repeat, but don’t overdo it. At first, find a quiet spot to practice — your bathroom or bedroom — so you can concentrate. Pull in the pelvic muscles and hold for a count of three. Then relax for a count of three. Work up to three sets of 10 repeats. Start doing your pelvic muscle exercises lying down. This is the easiest position to do them in because the muscles do not need to work against gravity. When your muscles get stronger, do your exercises sitting or standing. Working against gravity is like adding more weight.
  • Be patient. Don’t give up. It takes just five minutes a day. You may not feel your bladder control improve for three to six weeks. Still, most people do notice an improvement after a few weeks.

Part of being strong, healthy and in charge is having a strong, healthy and well-contracting pelvic floor.

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