The thought of traveling to an exotic destination might sound enticing, but not when you know you'll be taking your overactive bladder along with you. The thought of frantically searching for a bathroom in an unfamiliar city might fill you with dread. But it is possible to travel successfully.
Too often, overactive bladder causes people to drop activities they once enjoyed and become isolated, says Nancy Muller, executive director of the National Association for Continence in Charleston, S.C. Yet with proper management and trip preparations, you can travel with less fear of toileting accidents. "Control your bladder. Don't let your bladder control you," she says.
If possible, get your bladder ready several weeks before you travel with these bladder-training techniques.
Practice timed voiding. This means urinating "by the clock, rather than by what your bladder tells you," says Tomas L. Griebling, MD, MPH. He is vice chair of the department of urology at the University of Kansas. Use a restroom whenever you have the chance, whether or not your bladder feels full, he says.
Do your Kegels. Strengthening your pelvic muscles with Kegel exercises can help prevent urine leakage. "They work in both men and women," Griebling says. Tightly squeeze the muscles you use to start and stop urine flow for about 3 seconds, then relax them for 3 seconds. Try to do three sets of 10 Kegels per day.
Freeze and squeeze. "One of the symptoms of overactive bladder is that sudden sensation that you have to urinate very quickly. The natural tendency is for people to get up and rush to the toilet," Griebling says. Instead of rushing, try a "freeze and squeeze": Stop and focus on what you’re feeling in your bladder, and do two or three pelvic floor contractions. This should help lessen the urgency and give you more time to get to the toilet, he says.
To help control urinary urgency, doctors can prescribe drugs such as Detrol or Detrol LA (tolterodine), Ditropan or Ditropan XL (oxybutynin), and Vesicare (solifenacin). Griebling describes these as "bladder relaxant medications." Bladder relaxants don't cure overactive bladder, but they can relieve the symptoms.
If you haven't used these drugs before and want to try them, Griebling suggests you start taking them a few weeks before your trip. This way you'll know ahead of time how you respond to the drug, "rather than traveling and being in a new place and taking a new medication and having problems or side effects," he says.
It also takes about 2 weeks for bladder relaxants to become most effective, says Amy Rosenman, MD, a clinical assistant professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Remember to pack your medications in your carry-on luggage. Also bring along a copy of your prescription, Griebling says. "That way, if you run out, it’s easier to get things refilled."
Bring Enough Supplies
Bring absorbent pads with you so you'll have them even if you can't find them at your destination, Muller says. A small plastic bag can carry soiled clothing or discarded pads. Tuck clean underwear into a purse or day pack, too.
"I also recommend taking a barrier cream," Rosenman says. "If you get damp, it’s good to waterproof that area so that it doesn't get irritated and inflamed." Use it after each time you urinate, she says.
Choose Food and Drinks Wisely
"Know what your own bladder irritants are," Muller says, and avoid them while traveling. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks, alcohol, carbonated beverages, artificial sweeteners, and spicy or acidic foods are often bladder triggers.
On airplanes, be especially careful not to overdo the coffee, tea, alcohol, and soft drinks. Also, try to book an aisle seat near a lavatory.
Some people skimp on drinking water during travel to cut down on bathroom trips, but this strategy can backfire, she says. "That causes the urine to be more concentrated, and more highly concentrated urine is itself an irritant to the lining of the bladder and can trigger spasms." Instead, drink enough water to prevent dehydration.
Finding Public Restrooms
Plan ahead to locate public restrooms. For example, the National Association for Continence web site has a tool called "Find a Bathroom." The web site sitorsquat.com can help you find public bathrooms around the world.
Taking a road trip? Go online to find freeway exit guides that list rest areas with bathrooms. There are also free mobile apps that can help you locate restrooms.