5 Ways to Fight Urinary Incontinence

What embarrassing health secret do many women of a certain age share but rarely 'fess up to? Bladder problems. We're talking dribbles, sudden leaks, and mad dashes to the bathroom -- all signs of urinary incontinence, including overactive bladder.

If that sounds familiar, you're not alone. More than half of women deal with frequent urination. Aging, hormone changes, pregnancy, childbirth, physical stress (e.g., gymnastics) all play roles in overactive bladder problems, as do new factors, such as the obesity-diabetes epidemic.

That's a lot of daily difficulties. Urinary incontinence dampens your enthusiasm for exercise, sex, going out, even attending meetings. Yet few women, and fewer men (yes, it's a problem for them, too), ask for help. Here are 5 ways to stop the flow for better bladder control:

  1. Do Kegels. This exercise strengthens the pelvic floor and sphincter muscles, which helps more than 80% of women with stress incontinence (the leak-when-you-sneeze type) stay dryer. You can do Kegel exercises anywhere: at your desk, sitting at the movies, standing in line at the grocery store. Doing Kegels is good for your sex life, too.

    The Right Way to Do Kegels
  2. Skip "urge-to-pee" drinks. It's a no-brainer that your bladder's going to yell after you chug a giant bottle of water, but you may be overstimulating an overactive bladder in other ways. Caffeine, fizzy drinks, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, tomatoes, and citrus can all trigger an overwhelming urge to pee. Also, sip slowly throughout the day.
  3. Take vitamin D. There's a strong link between urinary incontinence and low vitamin D levels. Take 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 (that's the kind of vitamin D your skin produces when exposed to sun) a day; 1,200 IU after age 60. Your doctor can also order a blood test to check your vitamin D levels. (Up to 75% of people are low, especially in winter.)
  4. Keep a "pee diary." For three days, write down what you do and when your bladder loses control. Then look for connections. You may find patterns you can change easily, such as the afternoon urge to pee that always hits after your Big Gulp diet cola. You may also find connections your doctor can help with, such as a bladder that always acts up when you walk in the front door.
  5. Work with your doctor. If changes such as doing Kegels and not chugging soda don't help, make an appointment with your doc. He or she can check for other factors that might be causing frequent urination. Anything from prescription meds (a side effect of some blood pressure drugs, for instance) to infections can trigger urinary incontinence.

Treatments for incontinence include bladder retraining techniques, acupuncture, prescription drugs (to calm overactive bladders), and bladder surgery, to tightly shut your urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body) or reposition a bladder that shifted during childbirth. There's also a plastic ring called a pessary that can help stabilize a shifty bladder or tighten a leaky urethra.

Speak up. Soon you'll be walking right past those underpads in the drugstore and taking long road trips worry-free.

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