Urge Incontinence: Tips for Daily Life

Medically Reviewed by Nazia Q Bandukwala, DO on September 10, 2023
5 min read

By its very nature, urge incontinence, sometimes referred to as overactive bladder (OAB), can make you feel out of control. You may not be able to make it to the bathroom without peeing when you get an intense urge to go. And you may get this urge just from hearing water running. The result can be discomfort, embarrassment, and anxiety.

Urge incontinence occurs when an overactive bladder spasms or contracts at the wrong times. You may leak urine when you sleep or feel the need to pee after drinking a little water, even though you know your bladder isn’t full. This sensation can be a result of nerve damage or abnormal signals from the nerves to the brain. Medical conditions and certain medications -- such as diuretics - can aggravate it.

Whatever the source, you don't have to feel that your OAB symptoms are beyond your control or that they are controlling your life. In fact, you may be able to take control over them just by making some changes in your everyday behavior. Try these practical tips to get started.

Eliminating caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can greatly reduce the symptoms of urge incontinence, because all three irritate the bladder. Caffeine also acts as a diuretic, meaning it causes you to urinate more. Cutting out the big three can be tough. Try these strategies:

  • If you need help to quit smoking, ask your doctor about smoking-cessation groups or programs.
  • Since caffeine is in coffee, teas, colas, energy drinks, and chocolate, you may find it hard to go cold turkey. Try cutting out caffeine slowly. Wean yourself over the course of a week or two until you’re completely caffeine-free.
  • If you don’t want to cut out alcohol completely, limit yourself to one beverage a day.

Controlling your intake of liquids can be tricky. You might think that cutting back on liquids across the board would reduce OAB. In fact, it can make urine more concentrated, which can irritate the bladder. On the other hand, it's a good idea not to pressure the bladder by drinking too much liquid at once. Try these strategies:

  • Drink plain water when you’re thirsty, from four to eight 8-ounce glasses a day. You’ll know you’re drinking enough if your urine is light yellow or almost colorless.
  • Sip water throughout the day, instead of gulping down a lot at one time.
  • Unless you’re exercising, don’t carry a large water bottle. It may tempt you to drink too much at once.
  • If you’re waking up to urinate more than twice a night, drink most of your liquids during the waking hours. Limit how much you drink two to three hours before bedtime.
  • If you take a diuretic, try taking it in the morning. That way, you should be able to empty your bladder by bedtime.

It’s possible to retrain your bladder to hold more urine for longer periods of time. Better muscle control can also help. Ask your doctor for a specific plan and stick with it; it can take up to three months to see results. These strategies may be part of your plan:

  • Keep a bladder control log. Record how much you drink, when you pee, and how much (average for you, less than average, or more than average). Each time you have an urge to pee, record how strong it is, on a scale of 1 to 10, and whether any urine leaks.
  • Do Kegel exercises. Kegels strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that hold up the bladder. They also help reconnect nerve impulse communication between the bladder and the brain. To do them, lie on your bed or the floor and squeeze the pelvic muscles as if you were trying to pick up a marble with your vagina. Then pretend you're trying to suck the marble inside the vagina. Hold for a count of 10 seconds, relax for 10 seconds, repeating the pattern 10 times, three times a day.

The NIH recommends holding for 10 seconds, relaxing for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times, 3 times per day. (there is no exact formula, but this may give one more specific instructions)

  • Resist the urge to urinate for five minutes. Whenever the urge to pee strikes, try to hold it for longer than you normally would. Build up longer intervals over a 12-week period. The goal is to urinate every three to four hours.
  • Break the mind/ bladder association. If you have certain habits -- say, racing to the bathroom as soon as you get to work or walk in the door at home -- try changing your routine. The urge to pee may diminish in 30 to 60 seconds.

Tension, diet, and being overweight can all contribute to urinary incontinence. The good news is that you can do something about all three:

  • Eat more vegetables and fiber. Fiber helps you avoid constipation, which may help reduce pressure on your bladder.
  • Reduce tension. Tense situations can make you to feel as if you need to pee. Deep breathing exercises are one of the tools that can ease tension.
  • Exercise. If you're overweight, losing weight will keep extra pounds from adding to the pressure on your bladder. Exercise may aggravate stress incontinence, though.
  • Use good posture when you urinate. Sit back on the toilet. Don’t lean forward, since this may put unwanted stress on the urethra and bladder.

In addition to cutting down or eliminating alcohol and caffeine drinks, limiting other foods or beverages may help OAB. Try cutting back on:

  • Acidic foods and beverages, such as tomatoes, pineapple, and citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes
  • Salty foods, which can make you thirstier and hence, lead to drinking more liquids
  • Spicy foods, such as chilies, which can irritate the bladder
  • Carbonated beverages, such as sodas or seltzers

Though urge incontinence is uncomfortable, it's also very treatable. Changes in your lifestyle and habits can play a part in treating it.