Beverages are most often associated with the bladder and the need to urinate, but the foods you eat can also have an effect on urinary incontinence. Following a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and good-for-you fats can keep you "regular," or prevent constipation, which can cause bladder weakness by affecting the pelvic muscles and nerves. However, you may need to limit your intake of acidic foods like citrus or tomatoes if you find that they irritate your bladder.
Despite the logic that drinking less fluid will reduce the potential for leakage, minimizing your liquid intake can actually lead to dehydration, bladder or urinary tract infections (UTI), constipation and other medical conditions that will worsen bladder control.
Drink lots of water, at least eight (eight-ounce) glasses per day. Juices are also fine, though you may need to limit your intake of acidic citrus or tomato juices.
Avoid drinking caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. Caffeinated beverages can cause excess urine production as well as irritate the nerves that control your bladder. Alcohol is another cause of excess urine production and can further relax the muscles involved in bladder control.
If you have been avoiding exercise and other physical activity because the exertion causes you to leak, it's time to stop letting your bladder limit your lifestyle. Exercise is healthy for you mentally and physically and can even help improve your bladder control.
Absorbent products, like Poise ® pads, can give you the confidence to get moving without the tell-tale signs of leakage and kegel exercises can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles associated with the bladder. Kegels are especially helpful if you are pregnant, planning on getting pregnant, or during post-delivery (pregnancy and childbirth can weaken pelvic muscles and cause urinary incontinence). Best yet, kegels can also improve your sex life, something you should not be missing out on because of bladder weakness.
If you are overweight, consider changing your diet and incorporating more physical activity into your lifestyle. Even a few extra pounds can contribute to bladder control problems. Losing weight may improve your bladder control, since it can reduce intra-abdominal pressure (another factor contributing to bladder weakness).
In addition to being linked to a variety of health problems, research suggests that heavy smoking is a leading contributor to bladder disorders such as bladder-related cancers and bladder weakness. Smoking is the number one cause of bladder cancer, which can lead to urinary incontinence (but, really, the leakage is going to be the least of your worries if you have cancer). Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs and join your local smoking-cessation groups for support as you kick the habit.
Though you may be avoiding sex for fear of leaking, sex can help you strengthen your pelvic muscles. In addition to intentionally practicing kegels to strengthen your pelvic muscles, the natural kegel-like muscle contractions while you have sex or orgasm can help improve your bladder control, too. Most important, staying intimate with your partner and feeling good about yourself are essential in not letting your bladder limit your life.
Your doctor may suggest additional treatments to help improve your bladder health. Biofeedback, done in-office, can help you tune into your pelvic muscles and improve the effectiveness of your kegel exercises. Bladder retraining has been shown to successfully increase the amount of time between urinations. In some cases, medications are necessary, though be sure to rule out if any medications you currently take are contributing to bladder weakness. Surgery is a last resort but may be necessary to repair damaged nerves or muscles in the pelvic area.
Urinary incontinence affects at leat one in four women and has a variety of causes. You can prevent urinary leakage and even minimize or eliminate bladder control problems if you follow a healthy lifestyle. Be sure to read Bladder health through the ages
and What affects bladder health?
for more information, and consult your doctor if you think you have a bladder control problem.