Bladder control problems aren’t something people like to talk about, but many people have them. Millions of U.S. adults have overactive bladder (OAB). And many of them also deal with incontinence -- the loss of bladder control that leads to leaking.
“They might avoid participating in certain activities for fear they won’t be close to a bathroom and might have an accident,” says Margaret Mueller, MD, assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Most commonly, I hear people say their bladder ‘rules their world.’"
Take back control with these steps:
1. Take note.
Keep a diary of how often you’re going to the bathroom and everything you’re eating and drinking. Record what time of day you go the most. This information will help you and your doctor get a better picture of what’s going on.
2. Watch your water.
Too much water can make bladder problems worse. But drinking too little can dehydrate you, and that can irritate your bladder. You need to find the right amount for you. It’s different for everyone, but most people need about 48 ounces a day. “I tell patients that they should have at least some yellow in their urine,” says Margie Kahn, MD, associate clinical professor of urology at Tulane School of Medicine.
3. Retrain your bladder.
“Bladder retraining involves learning to ‘hold on’ longer and longer,” Kahn says. Pick a set amount of time to wait between bathroom trips, and then gradually increase it. Slowly, your bladder can learn to hold more urine.
4. Drop a few pounds.
Carrying extra weight puts added pressure on your bladder. Losing weight eases the load on your bladder and the muscles surrounding it.
5. Exercises may help you.
Kegel exercises -- flexing and releasing your pelvic muscles -- can help you hold pee in your bladder longer. But they’re not for everyone. “Sometimes the pelvic floor muscles aren’t weak, in fact, they are just the opposite,” Mueller says. If that’s the case, she says, Kegels could make your bladder problems worse. So check with your doctor first.
6. Avoid triggers.
Some foods and drinks can make bladder control problems worse. Caffeine, carbonated drinks, and spicy foods can increase leaking for some people. Alcohol can make you pee too much, and smoking can also trigger the urge to go.
7. Check what medications you take.
If you’re on medication for other conditions, check with your doctor to see if bladder control problems may be a side effect. Some drugs, including over-the-counter allergy medications, muscle relaxants, and diuretics, can cause leaking.
8. Talk with your doctor about medications to help your OAB.
If nothing else is working, your doctor might prescribe a medication. But they can have side effects like dry mouth, constipation, or blurred vision. You’ll have to decide if the benefits are worth it for you.
Botox may also be an option for you. It’s approved as a treatment for bladder control problems. Your doctor injects it straight into your bladder muscle. “The procedure only takes a few minutes and helps to control symptoms for about 6-12 months,” Mueller says.
In some cases, bladder control problems are treated with surgery, but this is rare. Talk to your doctor to learn more.