Urinary incontinence is such a pain in the… well, you know. According to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, urinary incontinence affects 35 million women in America — affecting up to 37 percent of women ages 20 to 39, and up to 39 percent of women older than 60.
“Urinary incontinence is a common problem for women that is often underreported and underdiagnosed,” says Dr. David Fleming, president of the American College of Physicians. “It’s estimated that about half of women with incontinence don’t report it to their doctor.”
The types of urinary incontinence that are most common include:
- Stress incontinence: where you experience leakage when you put pressure on your bladder (such as through coughing, sneezing, laughing or lifting something heavy).
- Urgency incontinence: where you have a sudden and intense urge to pee.
- Overflow incontinence: where you experience frequent dribbling due to the fact that your bladder doesn’t empty completely.
- Mixed incontinence: where you experience more than one type of UI.
No matter the reason for your bladder’s attitude problem — pregnancy, menopause, UTIs, obesity — there are ways to combat the issue without surgery or medication.
“Non-drug treatments should be utilized as much as possible,” says Fleming. “They’re effective, have few side effects and are less expensive than medications. Although various drugs can improve UI and provide complete continence, adverse effects often lead many patients to stop taking their medication.”
There’s nothing like getting rid of a problem with medication, only to find yourself being attacked by 75 side effects. If you’ve been saying frequently, “I think I just peed a little,” let your bladder know this means war and try the following natural solutions on for size.
1. Bladder training
This is a behavioral technique where you delay peeing when you feel the urge to go, the goal being to lengthen the time between bathroom trips until you’re only going every two to four hours. As you’re doing this, it might help to keep track of what triggers your symptoms and define your pee pattern.
2. Double voiding
For those dealing with overflow incontinence, this method helps you learn to empty your bladder more completely. After going pee, simply wait a few minutes and try, try again.
3. Scheduled bathroom trips
Instead of waiting for the need to go, make your bathroom trips a part of your daily routine, scheduling them every two to four hours.
4. Diet and lifestyle changes
To regain control of your bladder, there might be diet and lifestyle changes you can make to help ease the tension. For example, avoid things that irritate your bladder, such as caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, artificial sweeteners and spicy foods. Avoid feminine deodorant products, which can irritate the urethra. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, and drink six to eight glasses of water daily. (This may sound counterproductive, but not drinking enough water can irritate the bladder and make incontinence worse.)
5. Pelvic floor muscle exercises
Kegel exercises help strengthen pelvic floor muscles and improve bladder control. This involves squeezing the pelvic muscles as you would if you were trying to hold it, counting to 10 and then relaxing. Repeat this process 20 times, three to four times a day. Or, if you’re like me and the process makes you giggle, add some pelvic strengthening yoga moves into your day.
For women with stress UI, the ACP recommends Kegel exercises and against drug therapy. For women with urgency UI, they recommend bladder training and medication only if the training is unsuccessful. For mixed UI, they recommend a combination of Kegel exercises and bladder training, and if you’re obese with UI, weight loss and exercise.
A version of this article was originally published in October 2014.