Inconvenienced by Incontinence?
As we age or after giving birth, the small muscles which help control the bladder tend to lose some of their strength. If you have weak bladder muscles or an uncontrollable urge to use the bathroom, you know how inconvenient, uncomfortable and embarrassing these situations can be. However, did you know there are some relatively easy steps you can take to reduce and even get rid of this problem? These include lifestyle changes, pelvic floor muscle strengthening, medications, and even surgical procedures.
Incontinence is when your bladder leaks urine without you being able to control it. There are four main types of urinary incontinence: stress, urge and overflow incontinence. Stress incontinence (often the result of a weakened or stretched pelvic floor from pregnancy or childbirth) is more common in women than men. Other types include functional and reflex, which are usually caused by another illness or physical problem.
There are different reasons why people experience incontinence, but generally, it is due to weakened or stretched pelvic floor muscles, injury, enlarged prostate or other physiological reasons. Being female (the urethra is shorter) or being overweight are also key factors.
Symptoms include leaking small amounts of urine when sneezing, coughing or even laughing. More severe cases leak when moving quickly, jogging, sitting down, squatting or lifting heavy objects.
Change your ways: The first thing to do, and maybe the best line of defense is changing your daily habits – it's free and without pills. Try setting your body on a urination schedule and retraining your mind (for people who are triggered by running water or washing dishes. Other lifestyle changes include monitoring fluid intake, suppressing coughing (caused by smoking), and reducing “anti-bladder” liquids like caffeinated coffee/tea, alcohol, and fizzy beverages.
Targeted exercises: The small pelvic floor muscles help you control your bladder (and bowels). Building this group of muscles may be very helpful for people who have stress or urge incontinence. Kegel exercises, which involve controlled contracting and releasing those muscles. Especially pregnant and post-partum women can benefit from making these muscles stronger.
Medication: Anticholinergics, such as oxybutynin (Ditropan) are the most commonly prescribed medications when pill-free interventions do not help. Some of the common side effects can include dry mouth and eyes, headache, constipation, and confusion. Even ingredients found in some cold medications are effective. Remember to consult with your physician since it may take some trial and error to find the best drugs with the fewest side effects.
Medical procedures: Botulinum toxin (commonly known as Botox), is a muscle relaxant used to treat urge incontinence. Botox is not a permanent solution, and the injections need to be repeated every 8-10 months. A more aggressive procedure called sacral neuromodulation can help people with urge incontinence. A small device called an Interstim is surgically implanted in the lower back to stimulate the sacral nerve. However, if your bladder muscles are completely damaged, there is currently no known surgery.
Your life doesn’t have to drastically change due to incontinence. There are hygiene products which can help deal with the inconveniences such as special undergarments and pads. There are also small medical devices which can be inserted at home as needed. If you think you might be suffering from incontinence, please consult your physician to find the right solution or treatment for your case.