Urinary incontinence – or accidental leakage of urine – is not a pleasant condition. It can occur for a number of reasons, such as older age, pregnancy and childbirth, surgery, obesity, urinary tract infections, or a chronic cough.
It may also occur as a result of stress incontinence – a condition where small amounts of urine leak out when a person does certain activities such as laughing, playing sport, lifting an object or sneezing. Bladder weakness may also occur in men following surgery in the form of urinary incontinence post prostatectomy.
When you have this problem, you might think that avoiding fluids will help. However, the opposite is more likely the case, in that dehydration can lead to irritation of the bladder. Drinking plenty of fluids can help to keep the bladder healthy, which may in turn help to reduce leakage.
What is ‘normal’?
Healthy urine should be pale yellow. When it is darker in colour, it may indicate dehydration, although some vitamin pills can change the colour of otherwise healthy urine. It’s also considered normal to pass urine four to six times per day and once during the night, and to be able to urinate without strain and to empty the bladder completely.
Urinary incontinence prevalence
According to the Continence Foundation Australia, the condition may affect around 13% of men and 37% of women at some stage of their lives. Research shows that around 70% of people report not seeking treatment for urinary leakage, and that 50% of women aged 45-59 report having suffered some degree of incontinence.
Drinks to avoid
While fluids can help to prevent incontinence, there are some drinks that can worsen the problem by irritating the bladder, particularly those that are acidic in nature.
- Caffeinated drinks such as coffee and some soft drinks.
- Alcoholic drinks such as wine, beer, cider, and spirits.
- Carbonated / fizzy soft drinks.
- Citrus juices.
According to the Better Health Channel, water is the best thing to drink to maintain bladder health. Make sure to drink when thirsty in order to avoid dehydration. However, you may want to avoid drinking too close to bedtime if you often need to go to the toilet during the night.
Foods to avoid
- Highly acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus fruits.
- Foods and dishes that are very spicy, such as hot curries.
- Chocolate, sugar, honey, and artificial sweeteners may also need to be avoided.
It’s important to consult with your doctor regarding your diet, and to get promptly treated for urinary tract infections.
What else you can do
As well as taking care regarding what you eat and drink there are other things you can do to help minimise the problem. These include:
- Pelvic floor strengthening exercises – ask your doctor about how to do these.
- Lose weight if required – excess weight can increase the pressure on the pelvic floor.
- Do regular exercise – which can strengthen muscles overall and help to maintain a healthy weight.
- Maintain a healthy diet overall – including high fibre wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
- Develop good toilet habits – do not go to the toilet constantly in the normal course of events, but wait until your bladder feels full. This way you will be training your bladder to provide the signal to go only when full.
- Quit smoking – smoking can lead to chronic cough which can weaken the pelvic floor.
- Get prompt treatments where necessary – for example for coughs, excess sneezing, and urinary tract infections, as these things can exacerbate incontinence.
Treatments for incontinence
If your incontinence problem doesn’t go away with the above measures, you may have a weakness in the sphincter muscle which could require intervention. If so, there are a few options available – including an artificial silicon sphincter implant for men, and sub-urethral slings for either gender. There are several types of sling available depending on your condition.
For an ongoing incontinence problem you should seek a urinary incontinence assessment by a qualified urologist.