Are you navigating your day with a leaky bladder? It’s okay to admit it—roughly 1 in 4 women are in the same boat. And, wouldn’t you know it, experts say our changing hormones might be to blame.
“There are many root causes of an overactive bladder, but the onset of menopause accentuates an increased need to go in some women,” says Lisa Hawes, M.D., a female urology specialist with Chesapeake Urology Associates in Maryland and spokesperson for the American Urological Association.
Your bladder, urethra and pelvic floor muscles are all estrogen sensitive. When levels of the hormone start to decline—a stage known as perimenopause—”the urge to go can be impossible to fight for some women,” says Dr. Hawes. Additional forces at play include your weight, number of childbirths, certain medications and health conditions, and other natural, age-related changes.
If you’re dealing with an urge to go more often, or are worried about embarrassing leaks, there are a few things you can try before making that call to your doctor.
Practice your Kegels. You remember these from your childbearing years, right? Kegel exercises are subtle moves that strengthen the pelvic muscles and may help reduce leakage. To do them, practice squeezing only the muscles in your genital area as if you’re trying to stop the flow of urine. Aim to squeeze and hold for 3 seconds, relax and repeat 10 times, working your way up to 3 sets of 10.
If you’re prone to forgetting (or blowing off) any form of exercise, devices like the Elvie Trainer ($199) and corresponding app might be worth a try. You insert the trainer as you would a tampon and it leads you through short pelvic-floor “workouts,” gives you instant feedback, and tracks your progress over time.
Keep a food journal. Many of your favorite foods and drinks can trigger the urge to go. Take your must-have morning cup of coffee or tea; the acid (not the caffeine) can stimulate muscle contractions and leave you squirming in your seat. Spicy food, chocolate, fruit juices, carbonated drinks and alcohol can also pose a problem. Dr. Hawes tells her patients to keep track of their body’s cues after meals and snacks. “Within a few days you’ll have a good idea of your triggers,” she says.
Make sure all systems are“go”. No surprise here, if you’re constipated your bladder is not happy. “Any backup of stools is going to put unwanted pressure on your bladder,” she says. Fortunately, drinking plenty of water and eating lots of vegetables, fruit and whole grains can help keep everything moving freely in your system.
Watch the number on the scale. Taking steps to bring your weight into a healthy range will ease some of the pressure on the bladder that leads to sneaky leaks and the need to go more often. If your doctor has diagnosed you as overweight, losing even a few pounds can help.
Put your smartphone to work for you by downloading a wellness app like Lose It! After you log in your weight loss goal, Lose It! tracks the foods you eat, gives you meal suggestions and lets you sync with other workout devices like the Fitbit Versa Watch. $199 FitBit Versa for a more complete picture.
Train your bladder. Turns out many of us are going about relieving ourselves all wrong. For example, we head to the bathroom before our bladders are full, setting up a pattern where our bladder signals a need to go with less and less volume inside. Dr. Hawes says retraining your bladder—often a first-line treatment for incontinence—can be tried on your own. Here’s how it works:
–For a couple of days, write down the times you urinate and leak urine.
–Note the average interval between urinations (1 hour, for example) and set a goal of waiting 15 extra minutes (90 minutes).
–On day one of your training, empty your bladder first thing and start the clock.
–If you get to 90 minutes without an urge, go anyway. If the urge hits first, distract yourself to delay going. You can try doing Kegels or taking a slow walk.
–If all is going well—you’re experiencing fewer urges—in a few days gradually increase your interval by another 15 minutes. Continue adding time over the next few weeks.
Still struggling? Call your doctor. Making these few lifestyle changes won’t work for everyone. If your urges are getting in the way of your daily life, let your doctor know what’s going on. “There are medications and medical treatments that can bring you relief,” she says.