14th March 2023

Living with Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is a common condition, often causing distressing and inconvenient symptoms. Urinary incontinence is the unintentional leakage of urine caused by problems with the bladder. You may leak when doing exercise or when laughing, coughing, or sneezing- this is known as stress urinary incontinence. Leakage when rushing to the toilet is known as urge urinary incontinence. Some people may also have elements of both bladder problems known as mixed urinary incontinence.

Take a look at the following tips and lifestyle changes to relieve symptoms of urinary incontinence.

1. Strengthen your pelvic floor

High impact exercise can strain the muscles in your pelvic floor and may worsen leakage. Replace high-impact exercises like jogging and aerobics with strengthening exercises such as pilates to strengthen your pelvic floor. Your core muscles will get stronger during pilates, which is good for managing stress incontinence.

Pelvic floor exercises can help to train and strengthen the muscles to improve symptoms of incontinence. To strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, sit comfortably and squeeze the muscles 10 to 15 times. Do not hold your breath or tighten your stomach, bottom, or thigh muscles at the same time. When you get used to these pelvic floor exercises, you can try holding each squeeze for a few seconds.

You may have to do pelvic floor exercises for three months before you start seeing any benefits. There are useful online resources that can help you to do your pelvic floor exercises such as the Squeezy App, which is recommended by the NHS.

2. Retrain your bladder

Bladder training involves voiding at regular intervals, this helps to form a pattern and re-trains the bladder muscles to contract at the right time. The aim of voiding is to increase the amount of time between emptying your bladder and to increase the volume your bladder can hold. Over time this overrides the sense of urgency, decreasing the need to run to the toilet. Bladder training involves following a fixed voiding schedule. If you feel an urge to urinate before the assigned interval, you should try urge suppression techniques — such as relaxation and Kegel exercises (pelvic floor muscle training). As you start seeing the benefits from the exercises, the interval’s length can be increased until you only need to go to the toilet every 2-3 hours.

3. Cut down on bladder irritants/triggers

Caffeine is irritating to the bladder and can increase symptoms of urgency and urge incontinence Reducing your intake of caffeine-containing beverages such coffee, energy drinks, tea, and fizzy drinks in favour of water and fruit teas can relieve symptoms of urge incontinence. Alcohol is a diuretic, which makes you urinate more often, cutting down may help incontinence symptoms. Spicy or high-acid foods (citrus fruits and juices) can also influence the need to pee. 

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4. Maintain a healthy lifestyle 

Weight management: carrying extra weight can weaken the pelvic floor muscles and make you more prone to incontinence as this puts pressure on your bladder. 

Smoking: if you smoke, you put yourself at risk of incontinence, as coughing strains your pelvic floor muscles. Smoking also decreases the quality of the tissues in the body making you more prone to weakening of the pelvic floor. The HSE has excellent quit smoking supports which can be accessed here.

Diet: eating a varied diet rich in fibre prevents constipation. Pelvic floor muscles deteriorate when you strain on the toilet, which worsens urine incontinence. Never ignore a bowel movement. Altering your sitting position may also be beneficial.

Next steps

If there is little to no improvement after following these tips, you may need to see your doctor for further tests. Your doctor will then decide what management options would be suitable for you!

Book a consultation with one of our consultant at Centre for Women's Health in Cork.

This content has been reviewed by Susan Wilson, gynaecology fellow at our Centre for Women's Health in Cork.

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