There are many things which can make you vulnerable to developing incontinence. It usually develops gradually, as a result of multiple factors such as weight, smoking, and chronic constipation. You can reduce the impact of these on the function of your bladder and bowel by changing your lifestyle to cut the risk out.
Some events cause incontinence suddenly or are unavoidable. These include: suffering a spinal injury, ageing, giving birth, having a genetic predisposition or disease which leaves you vulnerable. Although you cannot avoid these causes, you can become more resilient to the impact of these events, and be in a better position to recover (where possible).
Read more about the Causes and Diagnosis of incontinence.
Its important to recognise the early warning signs of incontinence developing. So you can protect yourself and those you care for, and seek treatment as soon as possible. It is important that you do not avoid formal diagnosis for fear of embarrassment or denial. Most cases of incontinence can be treated with conservative therapy's, and you can be back to full health within a few months.
Reducing Your Risk of Developing Incontinence
The following recommendations can be followed by anybody:
- Exercise your pelvic floor (Kegel exercises) - Keeping your pelvic floor muscles strong is essential for normal bladder and bowel function. This is especially important before pregnancy and other occasions where you are aware that your pelvic floor muscles will be weakened. If you keep your pelvic floor at its highest strength, like any muscle, it will recover from stress and injury much faster.
- Biofeedback therapy can be introduced into your exercise routine to ensure you are completing your manual exercises correctly. Usually using a vaginal or anal probe, an electronic biofeedback machine can give you a reading for how effective your 'squeezes' are being.
- You can enhance the effectiveness of your pelvic floor exercises by using an electronic pelvic toner. Toners use electrical stimulation to artificially contract and relax your muscles in the most effective way. Using a toner is the quickest and most effective way to see an improvement in the strength of your pelvic floor muscles.
- To learn more, visit the Pelvic Floor Exercise Hub.
- Maintain a healthy weight - Keeping your BMI under 30 stops any unnecessary pressure from being put on your pelvic floor, which would otherwise weaken it.
- Keep fit - Exercise is an essential part of any healthy lifestyle. It keeps your muscles strong and your heart healthy. Pick low impact exercises over high impact exercises to still get a great workout without risking damage to your pelvic floor. Learn more about Exercises Which Damage Your Pelvic Floor here.
- Avoid or cut down diuretics - Avoid diuretics such as alcohol and caffeine which increase urine production. Reduce your intake throughout the day and stop a few hours before you go to bed.
- Avoid decongestants - Recent studies suggest that drugs, such as Pseudoephedrine, which are used in over the counter decongestants, can tighten the urinary sphincter and cause urinary retention and overflow incontinence.
- Attend prostate screening (for men) - A common cause of bladder and bowel dysfunction is prostatic enlargement or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) causing an obstruction. Having this condition caught early can mean you avoid suffering from incontinence.
- Attend smear tests (for women) - You may consider them invasive, but having a professional check the health of your vagina can ensure pelvic issues are caught early.
- Only urinate when you need to - Many people suffer from an overactive bladder as they have inadvertently trained their bladder to have the urge to urinate when it is not full. If you usually go even when you don't have an urge, hold off as long as you can without leaking..
- Treat urinary tract infections, constipation and diarrhoea - These conditions can lead to incontinence as they irritate the bladder and bowel and make it easier for leaks to occur.
- Stop smoking - If you regularly smoke you may develop a chronic cough which weakens your pelvic floor as it is frequently put under stress.
Treat any chronic coughs - Manage asthma, hay fever and any other conditions you may have that lead to a chronic cough.
- Manage your diabetes - Studies suggest you are at twice the risk of developing urinary incontinence if you suffer from type 2 diabetes. Although not yet fully understood, it is thought that the normal functions for you to be continent are impaired by the complications of diabetes. If you are overweight, as well as suffering from type 2 diabetes, you are even more likely to experience incontinence.
- Speak to a professional - If you have experienced sexual abuse which is making it hard to comfortably use the bathroom, or if you are suffering from depression, speak to a professional.
Early Warning Signs of Incontinence
There are many things you may experience before you are diagnosed with incontinence. We have listed a few of these below. Always speak to your GP if you have any concerns, as some of these warning signs are also symptoms of other conditions.
You may be developing incontinence if you:
- occasionally leak urine and/or faeces
- often stain your underwear
- are visiting the toilet more frequently
- often pass wind uncontrollably
- often get up during the night to urinate
- have recurring urinary tract infections (UTI's)
- frequently suffer from diarrhoea or constipation
Please note: this does not list all the precursors of incontinence.
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