You meet up with some friends for an early-morning run. Your stride is strong, your lungs are powerful and you’re feeling positively euphoric—until a familiar feeling stops you in your tracks. No matter that you just used the restroom right before heading out, when your bladder decides it’s time to go, there’s no stopping it. Suddenly, your blissful run has turned into a major embarrassment.|
It’s a topic no one wants to talk about, but it’s all too common. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, research shows that 25 to 45 percent of women have some degree of urinary incontinence (UI), which is a loss of bladder control that results in the accidental leakage that can leave you blushing during boot camp. Although men can also experience UI, it happens twice as often for women.
What Causes Loss of Bladder Control?
According to Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a practicing OB-GYN in Westchester County, New York who has been voted “top doctor” in New York Magazine, one out of every three women in the United States struggles with the frustration of occasional bladder control issues. Aging is a common cause of loss of bladder control, but Dr. Dweck points out there are other factors that can trigger potty problems.
“Carrying excess weight can also contribute to occasional bladder control issues,” says Dr. Dweck. “The heavier you are, the more weight presses on the bladder and the more likely you’ll have trouble controlling your urine flow. A healthy BMI (body mass index) can help prevent occasional urgency.”
In addition to how much you eat, your choice of foods and beverages can impact your bladder. “Some foods can be bladder irritants and worsen bladder control; be mindful of typical culprits including chocolate, spicy and acidic foods,” suggests Dr. Dweck. You might want to cut back on coffee and sodas, too: The doctor points out that if you suffer from occasional urinary urgency, caffeine can act as a diuretic and aggravate your symptoms.
“Many medications can also influence bladder health and urinary habits,” she adds. “Speak to your healthcare provider about modifying dosage or changing medications to improve bladder complaints.”
4 Types of Incontinence
Although the end results may be just as embarrassing, there are different types of incontinence. It’s important to identify which type you have so that you can get the right treatment. Dr. Jaime Knopman, Director of Fertility Preservation at CCRM New York, breaks down four common types of incontinence:
Incontinence and Exercise
Dr. Anup A. Vora, a urologist with Chesapeake Urology, treats many women who experience loss of urinary control while working out. “During exercise, especially when the abdominal muscles are tightened, the pressure in the abdomen increases, which can transmit pressure to the bladder, which can cause urine to leak out,” says Dr. Vora. “While women of all ages can be affected, those women who have had childbirth are especially prone, as the muscles in the pelvis to prevent this type of leakage have lost their tone over time.”
Don’t let embarrassing leakage keep you from sticking to your fitness goals. Try these tips for staying active in spite of an overactive bladder:
Treatment for Incontinence
Before beginning any medical treatment for incontinence, Dr. Knopman asks her patients to examine their lives and see if any changes need to happen. “If you are smoking, you need to quit,” she says. “If you are overweight, you need to lose weight. If you are suffering from constipation, you need to take a stool softener and eat more fiber, and if you are drinking tons of caffeine, you need to cut back. While basic, these can be the biggest beasts to tackle.”
She The doctor also recommends learning and implementing daily Kegel exercises as a means of strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder. In a way, you may have to go back in time to the days of potty training and focus on retraining your bladder to void frequently and keep urine volumes low.
Traditional Kegels aren’t always the answer, though. Some women have hypertonic pelvic floor muscles, which is when those muscles are too tight and don’t relax enough to completely empty the bladder. This can result in an increase of urinary urgency and frequency, as well as painful urination. In that case, a doctor may recommend doing a combination of regular Kegels and reverse Kegels to help relax tension in the pelvic muscles.
Dr. Dweck suggests urinating on a timed schedule, regardless of whether or not you feel the urge, to help lessen the chance of losing bladder control.
Some recent studies have suggested that pumpkin seed oil could help to benefit bladder health, which has resulted in a bevy of bladder control supplements containing pumpkin oil extract. More research is needed to determine its effectiveness, though.
If your bladder issues become severe or persist over time regardless of your best efforts to control them, it may be time to talk with your doctor about exploring other options.