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Myths and facts about bladder incontinence

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Deborah Wyatt

Director, talkhealth

There are many myths surrounding bladder incontinence; these are some of the most popular misconceptions.

Myth – Bladder incontinence is rare and only affects women who have had children or older people.

Incontinence is a lot more common than you may think. In fact, the NHS estimates that between three and six million people in the UK have some degree of bladder incontinence. Bladder weakness affects one in three women over the age of 18 and over half of these women never seek help from their doctor.

Bladder weakness and incontinence is more likely to affect certain people such as women who are pregnant or have given birth and women who are experiencing menopause due to a decline in oestrogen levels. While bladder weakness also affects older age groups; men, for example, shouldn’t be overlooked, as they can also experience bladder incontinence at any age.

A number of other life events and lifestyle choices can also trigger incontinence. These include:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Smoking
  • Nerve damage from diabetes
  • Neurological diseases e.g. MS, Parkinson’s
  • Obesity
  • Strenuous sports

Fact – There is more than one type of bladder incontinence

There are different types of incontinence that can affect you at any stage of life. The three main types are:

  • Urge incontinence – when you have a strong need to urinate but can’t reach the toilet in time – this can happen to you at any age;
  • Stress incontinence – when you experience bladder leaks when coughing, sneezing or laughing – which is more common in younger women;
  • Mixed incontinence – a combination of stress and urge incontinence.

Myth – Bladder incontinence is an individual disease

Incontinence isn’t a disease by itself, it’s a symptom for another health problem.

Quite often, a temporary illness like an infection can be a cause of incontinence. Once you treat the cause, incontinence can go away.

This is the same with long-term illnesses, such as diabetes and obesity for example. Diet changes, exercise, even surgery can improve both your condition and your bladder issue at the same time.

Fact – Exercise can help

Strong pelvic floor muscles can help you hold your urine and there are various exercises you can perform to help tighten these. Kegel exercises (pelvic floor) help both tighten and relax the muscles that control the release of your pee.

Exercising your pelvic floor muscles is like pretending you have to urinate and then holding it by relaxing and tightening the muscles that control the flow of urine. If you’re struggling with these, ask your doctor or a physical therapist to help you perform the exercises correctly.

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Myth – Drinking less can help stop leaks

You may have read online or been told by someone that drinking as little as possible can help manage your incontinence. This is certainly not the case! Without fluids, your urine gets too strong, which can irritate your bladder and may lead to other urinary problems.

Staying hydrated is so important for the healthy functioning of your body so make sure you take on fluid throughout the day. It might be a good idea though, to limit how much you drink a few hours before bed to reduce the chances of leaks overnight which may disturb your sleep.

Fact – Avoiding certain drinks can help bladder incontinence

Your doctor may suggest that you should avoid certain drinks, such as alcohol and caffeine.

Drinking too much of these types of drinks can cause you to experience temporary symptoms. It is worth making a note of what you’ve been drinking on the days you experience leaks to see if there’s a link.

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