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Men With Incontinence: Treating & Managing

Urinary Incontinence Is Common and Treatable

If you have urinary incontinence, you might feel embarrassed and alone. But you're not the only one: About 3.4 million men in the U.S. are estimated to be dealing with incontinence right now. And the good news is that you don't have to put up with it. Contrary to what a lot of guys think, urinary incontinence is not a normal sign of aging and it's not inevitable. It's a treatable condition.

Types of Incontinence

Stress incontinence results when physical activity, such as bending, lifting, or coughing, puts pressure on the bladder and triggers leaking. Urge incontinence -- caused by the bladder contracting when it shouldn't -- triggers a sudden and overwhelming need to urinate. The feeling is so intense that it's hard to make it to the bathroom in time. Other types include overflow and mixed incontinence.

What Causes Male Incontinence

Incontinence in men can result from medical conditions like enlarged prostate, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease. It can be common after some types of surgery for prostate cancer or other surgery on the prostate gland. Sometimes it can develop for reasons we don't completely understand, like "overactive bladder." Understanding the cause is crucial to getting the right treatment, so it's important to get a diagnosis from your doctor.

How You Can Manage Symptoms

Some guys have success by spacing out their fluid intake during the day and cutting back a few hours before bed. If that helps, stick with it. But don't restrict yourself too much, because you run the risk of getting dehydrated. And when you're not drinking enough fluid, urine becomes concentrated -- which can lead to complications, such as bladder infections, and make urinary incontinence worse.

Think Before You Drink

For some guys, caffeine seems to irritate the bladder and worsen symptoms. Soda and other carbonated drinks could have the same effect. Alcohol is a diuretic -- it makes you urinate more, which is really the last thing you need right now. Cut back on tea, coffee, soda, and alcohol and see if it makes a difference for you.

Adjusting Your Diet

Many men report that spicy or acidic foods can worsen urinary incontinence related to overactive bladder. Other offenders may be chocolate and artificial sweeteners. However, the specific triggers vary from person to person. Some men find that diet doesn't seem to have any effect. To find out, keep a food diary to track possible triggers and try cutting back on a suspected trigger food for a week to see if it helps.

Reducing Stress Can Help

Life with incontinence is stressful. Learning some simple relaxation techniques, like breathing exercises or meditation, may help you cope with symptoms. Biofeedback is another approach -- you watch a monitor in a doctor's office that gives you real-time information about muscle contractions around your bladder. With time, you can learn how to relax your body, ease your muscles, and maybe get control of your incontinence symptoms.

How to Train Your Bladder

Try using behavioral techniques to control male incontinence, like bladder training. Start by going to the bathroom every half hour to urinate, whether you feel the urge or not. As you get into the rhythm, gradually -- over days or weeks -- expand the time between bathroom breaks. Eventually, you may be able to space breaks by three to four hours and the urges in between may decrease.

Track How Often You Urinate

To help find the cause of incontinence, try keeping a record of how much you drink and how often you urinate for a few days. Make note of any leaking, along with anything -- drinking a lot, heavy lifting -- that might have triggered it. Then bring the record to your doctor's appointment. It will help your doctor better understand your symptoms and could provide more clues about the cause.

Flex Your Muscles

In men, Kegel exercises can help boost the strength of pelvic muscles that help the bladder to hold urine. Kegels are easy to work into a daily routine. Start by finding the right muscle -- it's the one you'd use to stop yourself from passing gas. Then just tense, hold, and release. Slowly build up until you're doing three or four sets of ten of these each day. You can do them lying or standing -- or even sitting at your desk.

Why Incontinence Pads Help

Lots of men balk at the idea of getting pads or disposable undergarments. But not only do they prevent leaks, they can protect skin from irritation and block odor. Best of all, they can help you regain confidence. You may be surprised at the number of options. Unlike the big, bulky "adult diapers" you might imagine, today's incontinence pads and undergarments are designed to be comfortable and not noticeable.

Pad and Underwear Options

Choosing the right product depends on your symptoms. For severe urinary incontinence, the ideal choice may be highly absorbent guards or disposable underwear. Guys with milder symptoms may need less. Drip collectors are disposable padded sheaths that go around the penis; they're good for slight leaking or dribbling. Pads can be tucked into underwear and attached with adhesive tabs. They're designed for light to moderate leaking.

Medications for Male Incontinence

For men with urge incontinence, medications may help. Some relax the muscle of the bladder to help prevent inappropriate contractions of the bladder. Others block nerve signals to the bladder that make it contract at the wrong time. Drugs prescribed to shrink an enlarged prostate can help with additional urinary problems. On the other hand, some drugs like diuretic "water pills" can actually trigger or worsen incontinence.

Incontinence Surgery and Other Options

Surgical options include a male sling for stress incontinence; material is wrapped around the urethra to compress and prevent leaking due to coughing, sneezing, or vigorous activities. An implanted artificial sphincter is also for stress incontinence and uses a cuff to close the urethra. Squeezing the pump opens the cuff and releases urine when you want to urinate. A pacemaker-like device (shown above) stimulates nerves which relax the bladder and pelvic floor muscles.

Incontinence Devices and Products

External catheters roll onto the penis like a condom and catch urine. They're attached to drainage bags that can be hung over the side of your bed while you sleep, or strapped to the body under your clothes during the day. If overflow incontinence is the issue, intermittent catheterization to regularly empty the bladder can help prevent leakage from an overly full bladder.

Be Prepared

Urinary incontinence can strike at amazingly inconvenient times. When you walk into a restaurant or store, note where the bathrooms are so you can get there quickly. Planning a car trip? Map out your route and decide on the spots where you'll take bathroom breaks. Wear clothing that's easy to remove in a hurry. And always have extra pads and a plastic urinal in the car for emergencies.

Reach Out for Support

Male urinary incontinence can be tough. If you're relentlessly anxious about leaking, you can start to feel worn down. Your social life may suffer. You may not even want to leave the house. If this is what your life has become, do something. Look for a support group or a therapist. Or go back to the doctor and see if there's something else you can try. Remember: incontinence is almost always treatable.

Incontinence in Men Products Diet and Lifestyle

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on March 24, 2014

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