They may be family -- but having an incontinence accident while staying in another person's home can be awkward and embarrassing. How do you explain the wet sheets? How can you dispose of used incontinence pads? Is incontinence keeping you from visiting friends and family?
"One of my patients was afraid she would wet the bed," says May Wakamatsu, MD, chief of Vincent Obstetrics and Gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "She stopped sleeping at her daughter's house because of it -- even though it meant not spending as much time with her grandchildren. It was very embarrassing for her."
An overactive bladder (OAB) doesn't have to keep you close to home. Whether your OAB symptoms are caused by age, medical issues, pregnancy, or disability, there are steps you can take to prevent accidents or to manage them discreetly when they do happen.
Here's a good plan to help you regain your freedom.
Your Strategy for Handling Incontinence
Pack for emergencies. Anextra bag can hold incontinence products: a bed pad, incontinence pads, odor neutralizer spray, disposable plastic bags, and extra pants. Stash wet things into plastic bags, slip them into your overnight bag -- and dispose when convenient. A spray of odor neutralizer in the room will help hide your secret.
Always pack black. Black pants are your best friend. Make sure you pack extras for those unexpected situations.
Upgrade your purse. Everyone carries day packs or tote bags. If you'll be out on a shopping spree -- or at a park with the grandkids -- yours can carry the necessities. Will you need an extra incontinence pad or change of pants? Will you need disposable bags to hold them? You'll be glad you have them with you.
Try a tampon. A tampon can help prevent leaks caused by stress incontinence, and works by putting pressure on the urethra, explains Vani Dandolu, MD, MPH, a urogynecologist with Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. Whether you're having a period or not, a tampon can help with leaks.
Tighten up. Prepare for the unexpected. When a laugh (or cough) hits, tighten pelvic muscles to prevent leaks. Practice Kegel exercises often to keep those muscles tight. Your daily routine may be disrupted, but you can still do your Kegels. To do Kegels, contract the muscles that you would use to stop the flow of urine. Hold the contraction for three seconds and then relax. Do this eight to 10 times, at least three times a week.
Cut back on coffee. Morning coffee is fine, but too much caffeine spells trouble for stress incontinence. The caffeine acts as a diuretic, which leads to leaks. Enjoy a little, but learn to say no. That goes for water, milk, carbonated drinks, and juice, too -- especially if you're planning a long car trip. You don’t want to dehydrate yourself, but try to avoid excessive fluid intake.
Go easy on alcohol. It has a diuretic effect, too.
Minimize spicy foods. Spicy and high-acid foods can irritate the bladder and trigger problems if you have urge incontinence. While you're a guest, try to minimize those foods -- and maximize veggies and other mild, high-fiber foods.
Get fitted for a pessary. If you have a mild problem with stress incontinence (which often happens after childbirth), a pessary can help, Dandolu says. This is a removable device that helps support pelvic organs -- which helps prevent urinary incontinence.
Take incontinence medications. Some people with urge incontinence take medications to help. If you're not taking them daily, start the drugs a day or two before your stay. Give them a chance to take effect.
SOURCES: May Wakamatsu, MD, chief of Vincent Obstetrics and Gynecology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. Vani Dandolu, MD, MPH, urogynecologist, Temple University School of Women, Philadelphia. WebMD Features: "A Woman's Little Secret" and "6 Ways Diet Worsens Urinary Incontinence."