Medically Reviewed by Gary H. Emerson, MD
What you eat. And how much. What you drink. And how much. Training for when you go to the bathroom. And how often. Special exercises for your pelvic muscles.
“Call them lifestyle modification or behavioral intervention. These are the first tools we’ll use when we work with you to control your bladder control problem,” says McLeod Gynecologist Gary Emerson, MD. “Whether it’s stress incontinence – leakage when you cough or sneeze – or urge incontinence – that feeling you “have to go” triggering a rush to the bathroom – nearly 4 out of 10 women will find some relief before moving to medications or surgery.”
CAREFUL WHAT YOU EAT & DRINK
Let’s start by checking the refrigerator. Hot wings, leftover Chinese food, chocolate pudding, cookie dough, honey, diet sodas, grapefruit juice, and some beer. Uh-Oh! Time to empty the fridge and start over.
Here are foods and liquids to avoid:
- Avoid spicy foods, chocolate, sugar and honey.
- Caffeine (coffee, tee) and carbonated beverages (sodas, even sparkling water) worsen urine leakage.
- Artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame) irritate the bladder.
- We all know that alcohol affects the brain. Alcohol starts to scramble the communication between your brain and bladder, confusing signals to you about when you need to go.
- Citrus fruit juices (lemon, grapefruit, orange) stimulate the bladder to leak.
- Control how much and when you drink liquids. The average person needs 64 ounces (8 glasses) of fluid a day. You can get about 20% of your daily fluids from food, such as soup or stew.
- Drink too much and you’ll stress your bladder.
- Drinking too little can cause a problem, too. Urine becomes concentrated, irritating the bladder.
- Don’t drink before exercise.
- Try not to drink much at work.
WATCH YOUR WEIGHT
- Extra weight puts added strain and pressure on your bladder. Lose weight and lighten the load on your bladder.
- Obesity starts at a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more. Find out your BMI.
A BLUEPRINT FOR BATHROOM VISITS
- You can try training your bladder. Start by going to the bathroom every 1-2 hours and every time you pass one – even if you don’t feel like you have to go.
- After a week, urinate at set times. During the second week, try stretching the interval between bathroom visits by 10 minutes, and by 20 minutes during the third week.
- The goal is to be able to last 4 hours without going to the bathroom.
FIRM UP PELVIC MUSCLE
- The most effective exercise to strengthen the muscles that control your bladder are called “Kegels.”
- With 8 repetitions 3 times a day, you should see an improvement in 6 to 8 weeks. Women with light incontinence may even see their problem disappear with the exercises.
AND THEN WHAT?
If these lifestyle adjustments work, that’s great!
If they don’t halt your leakage or urge episodes, your Gynecologist can work with you on treatment options that involve medication or surgery.
Find a Gynecologist near you.
Sources include: McLeod Health, National Institutes of Health, American Urogynecologic Society, National Association for Continence, National Health Service (UK), Annals of Internal Medicine, International Journal of Clinical Practice