23 November 2018

Is it possible to prevent incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is when you accidentally leak urine, which is often associated with age or pregnancy. However, there are ways you can limit the effect of this condition on your life.

Having a healthy bladder means that you urinate between four and six times per day and once (or not at all) during the night; your urine is a pale yellow in colour; and you don’t have any accidental leaks.

However, if you suffer from urinary incontinence, you may find that you're having accidental leaks that are both embarrassing and inconvenient. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent this from happening. Here are five things you can do:

1. Avoid becoming dehydrated

Dehydration can cause constipation and bladder irritation, which can result in incontinence. Make sure you drink plenty of water – taking small sips, instead of downing an entire glass of water in one go, can help spread your fluid intake evenly through the day. Also consume more fluids during hot weather or after strenuous exercise, when you are likely to sweat a lot. Carbonated drinks, alcohol, tea and coffee can cause bladder irritation, while fruit juice, milk or soup are hydrating.

2. Stay active and exercise

Staying active will help you maintain a healthy body weight, which in turn reduces pressure on the pelvic floor – this sling of muscle is responsible for bladder and bowel control. Exercising can be simple – go for a regular 30 minute walk or pick an activity you enjoy (such as dancing, yoga or swimming).

The Better Health Channel recommends keeping your pelvic floor muscles in shape: “Obesity, pregnancy, childbirth, regular heavy lifting, high impact exercise and a chronic cough can weaken the pelvic floor, but you can strengthen these muscles with specific exercises.” 

3. Maintain a healthy weight

If you are overweight, you are at a higher risk of incontinence, says a study published in the Journal of Urology. The researchers explain that carrying extra weight puts additional pressure on your bladder. Women’s Health reports that incontinence caused by weight gain is pretty easy to reverse. They cite another study published in the same journal that reported that women who were able to lose weight (and keep it off), had decreased their leakage by 65% one year later.

4. Treat constipation

If you find yourself regularly constipated, you could be contributing to urinary incontinence, as the constant straining to empty your bowels can weaken your pelvic floor muscles. According to the NHS, you should never delay the urge to empty your bowels. They say that changing your diet and lifestyle by eating more fibre-rich foods and exercising regularly can help prevent constipation and thus urinary incontinence.

5. Train your bladder

According to John Hopkins Medicine, there are two ways to train your bladder. The first involves Kegel exercises that, if done regularly and correctly, tighten muscles in your pelvis, which helps strengthen them and thus prevent accidental leaks. The second exercise is called "The Knack", and with this method you do a Kegel as you’re about to cough, sneeze or do any other activity that usually tends to trigger a leak.

When to see the doctor

Although you might find incontinence embarrassing, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about it. Dr Prenevin Govender, a Cape Town-based urologist and Health24’s Incontinence Expert, previously told Health24, “Incontinence is never ‘normal’ and if you experience it, you should always go to your doctor. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a urologist.”

Make sure you see your doctor under the following circumstances:

  • When you suddenly experience incontinence 
  • When incontinence affects your lifestyle
  • When you constantly feel as though you have a full bladder

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

Incontinence Expert

Dr Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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