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Don't let incontinence hinder your quality of life

Created date

September 24th, 2015

Living freely without limitation is a fundamental goal for us all and a basic aspect of maintaining independence is having control of our bladder function. Urinary incontinence or loss of bladder control is remarkably common, with one out of three older women and a significant number of men being affected. It is a topic often avoided in conversation by both patient and physician alike—only 30% to 40% of women ever discuss it with their medical provider. This is unfortunate since it is often highly treatable with some simple interventions. Studies demonstrate that successfully treating incontinence is associated with significant improvements in quality of life and satisfaction.

Most bladder control problems happen when muscles are either too weak or too active. Many causes of incontinence are treatable and reversible. These include (but are not limited to) infection, constipation, diabetes, mobility impairment, caffeinated beverages, and some medications. Two types of incontinence are typical: Urge incontinence occurs when you have the urge to empty your bladder but can’t get to the bathroom in time. Stress incontinence is when you leak urine with a sneeze, cough, or exertion. Some individuals have features of both and this is characterized as mixed incontinence.

You should not feel alone or embarrassed. There is much you can do to help yourself, and most people can improve with simple exercises, behavioral training, and lifestyle changes. 

Your health care provider can help

I recommend that you review your symptoms with a physician or health care provider to determine the best course of action. Much can be accomplished with a simple office visit and a check of your urine. Your provider may recommend pelvic floor muscle training, exercise (Kegel exercises), or behavioral training for stress or urge incontinence. He or she may recommend lifestyle changes such as weight reduction, avoiding caffeine, or management of your fluid intake but not necessarily fluid reduction. While reducing fluid intake before bedtime may be helpful, it is not advisable to manage urinary incontinence by restricting fluids throughout the day. 

These interventions require motivation to get better and the help of a trained professional such as a physician, nurse, nurse practitioner, or physical therapist with an understanding of incontinence. There are medications and other treatments (like surgery) available, but these can be associated with significant side effects, particularly in seniors, and the behavioral approach is safer and generally achieves better results.

If you are living with incontinence, you have opportunities to feel better and have a better quality of life. Please talk to your health care professional, read about your options, and take action.