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Take control of your bladder

Whether you’re an avid drinker of cranberry juice or have never given urinary health a second thought, you probably know that the bladder is an essential part of your body. Bladder conditions come in all forms, ranging from incontinence to urinary tract infections. But have you heard of overactive bladder (OAB)?

Believe it or not, up to 40 percent of women live with OAB. Your mother, your neighbor, your best friend – you? OAB is a group of urinary symptoms that include a strong, uncontrollable urge to urinate at unexpected times, often before the bladder’s full. Luckily, with the right guidance and support, OAB is easily treated.

Track your bladder symptoms

It’s important to know how, when and why your symptoms occur. Channel your teenage "dear diary" years (minus the angst) and track how much you drink, how often you use the bathroom and cases of leakage. To help, the American Urological Association (AUA) Foundation has a printable Bladder Diary. For the tech-savvy, there’s an app for that. Download the Bladder Pal app at iTunes.

Watch what you eat

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but those orange slices for lunch won’t help curb the urge to urinate. Along with anything spicy, citrus fruits top the list of bladder-irritating foods. Steer clear of chocolate, lemons, oranges and grapefruits, and tone down the spicy heat on meals to cut your bladder some slack.

Drink to your health

While it’s tempting to cut down on liquids, this will actually lead to dehydration. Stay hydrated, but make sure the liquids you’re drinking are the right ones. Steer clear of dehydrating beverages like alcohol, and swap out coffee, soda and other caffeinated beverages for water. To avoid overloading your bladder, try quenching your thirst with a few sips at a time. And for a good night’s sleep, have your last drink two to three hours before bed.

Exercise but no sweat involved

There are bladder exercises that can help reduce OAB symptoms. These differ from the Kegel exercises that many of us know, but use the same muscles. "Quick flicks," or a rapid tightening and releasing of the Kegel muscles (as opposed to the slow tightening and holding suggested for stress urinary incontinence) can cut down on bladder spasms by relaxing the bladder.

alarm clockStick to a schedule

One of the most frustrating parts of OAB is its unpredictability. Beat your symptoms to the punch by setting a schedule for emptying your bladder. If this sounds daunting, try upping your endurance by 10 to 15 minutes each week – your goal should be to hold it in for a three-hour stretch.

Talk to your doctor about your bladder health

OAB, while disruptive, is also very treatable. Talk openly with your doctor about symptoms (this is where your Bladder Diary comes in handy!). Fear not - your doctor's heard it all before. If it makes you more comfortable, bring along a friend or relative for support. During your appointment, focus on how your OAB symptoms have changed your life. Do your symptoms prevent you from getting a full night's sleep? Do you shy away from social situations that are far from a bathroom? Being open makes it easier for your doctor to work out a treatment plan that's right for you.

Above all, know that you are not alone. Learn more about OAB by visiting the AUA Foundation’s website for its new educational campaign, It’s Time to Talk About OAB.

You can also help raise awareness of OAB by sharing your story with the Voices of OAB, a contest from the AUA Foundation.

More on bladder health

Get control of your bladder
What affects bladder health?
What you need to know about bladder control surgery

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