Urinary incontinence is a health problem that can be quite embarrassing. Certain acute cases actually require medication or even surgery. However, many milder cases can be controlled with strategies that are neither pharmacological nor surgical.
Sometimes, bladder control problems are caused by a urinary tract or vaginal infection, certain types of medications or hormonal imbalance. These problems are generally transitory and often resolve when the causal agent vanishes.
On the other hand, inadequate functioning of the bladder muscles or of the urinary sphincter can cause persistent bladder control problems, of which there are many types.
1) A hyperactive bladder is characterized by involuntary contraction of the large bladder muscle, called the detrusal muscle, provoking a sudden and irrepressible urge to urinate, even if the bladder is not full.
2) Stress incontinence is the result of weakened support muscles that surround the urethra, the channel that carries urine to empty the bladder. In such cases, even a slight increase in intra-abdominal pressure such as when a person coughs, sneezes, laughs, exercises or lifts a heavy object for example, can cause urine losses.
3) Urge incontinence is an involuntary loss of urine that is often accompanied by substantial urine losses.
4) Mixed incontinence is a combination of both symptoms of urge incontinence and stress incontinence.
Individuals with mild incontinence can devise strategies that will help decrease symptoms. For example, persons with bladder control problems should pay close attention to the amount of fluids they ingest. In fact, large consumptions of liquids increase the quantity of urine excreted by the kidneys and, consequently, the need to urinate. It also puts a lot of pressure on the bladder. Certain foods can also irritate your bladder, they are called bladder irritants. To identify them, it is recommended you keep a food journal and note when the symptoms occur. This will allow you to establish a link between bladder irritants and symptoms. When you think you may have identified the culprit food, you should stop eating it for a few days, and gradually reintroduce it into your diet. If the particular food was actually the cause of your bladder control problems, the symptoms will cease when you stop consuming it and reappear when you reintroduce it.
Because they are afraid of having an “accident”, individuals who suffer from bladder control problems tend to urinate as soon as they feel the slightest urge. In time however, they come to believe that their bladder is always full, when it is actually not. When this occurs, the bladder must be retrained. To do so, individuals can start by urinating at fixed times, gradually increasing the time between urinations so the accumulation of urine in the bladder is more substantial. This will help individuals recognize and control the urge to urinate.
For individuals who suffer from stress incontinence, there are simple exercises that target and strengthen the muscles that support the bladder, and the urinary sphincter which allows flow interruption. These exercises are called Kegels. To do them, you simply contract the pelvic floor muscles, as if trying to stop urination, and then relax them. When done regularly, Kegels can help reduce “accidents”.
Lastly, obesity is a risk factor for incontinence. Excessive body weight puts constant and high pressure on the bladder. In these cases, weight loss can reduce and even solve the problem.
Mild urinary incontinence is a health problem that can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but it can often be managed through non-pharmacological strategies. To learn more on the subject, consult your pharmacist or physician.