Keeping Urinary Incontinence Under Control

Key steps to minimizing its impact on everyday life

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SATURDAY, June 4, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A few simple lifestyle changes may help the more than 13 million Americans with urinary incontinence regain control of their daily lives, one expert says.

This loss of bladder control is more common in people 65 and older and affects women more often than men. While drugs and minimally invasive surgery can help treat the condition, people with urinary incontinence can also take some important steps on their own, said Dr. Carol Figuers, an associate clinical professor in the division of physical therapy at Duke University Medical Center.

For example, "decreasing or eliminating caffeine intake can help reduce bladder urges," Figuers said in a prepared statement.

Caffeine can irritate and stimulate the bladder and cause urgent, frequent urination and increased urine production, she explained. Individuals who drink more than two caffeinated beverages a day should gradually reduce their caffeine intake to avoid possible withdrawal symptoms such as headache or sleepiness. Substituting non-caffeinated drinks in place of coffee, tea and colas can go a long way to reducing incontinence, the Duke expert said.

On the other hand, it's not a good idea to cut back on intake of liquids in an attempt to reduce the urge to urinate, Figuers said. Lack of liquids can cause dehydration, which can cause urine to become concentrated and actually result in increased bladder urgency, foul-smelling urine and, sometimes, bladder infection.

Drinking too much alcohol and eating too much spicy food can also aggravate incontinence.

Figuers said that bladder training and "timed voiding" can help control wayward bladders. Developing a regular schedule of urinating can help bladders hold more urine and gradually increase the time between urination. Holding urine too long can increase the risk of urinary tract infection, however.

Urinary incontinence is often linked to a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles. Pelvic floor muscle exercises (Kegel exercises) can strengthen those muscles and help prevent urine leakage, Figuers said.

"An individual can learn to improve both the strength and endurance of this special muscle group through regular exercise," she explained. "They're most effective when a person is able to isolate the pelvic floor muscle and exercise that muscle specifically."

More information

For more on what physical activities can help urinary incontinence, visit the American Physical Therapy Association.

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, May 2005

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