If you wouldn’t dream of going on a road trip without mapping out every rest stop along the way, or the mere thought of jumping jacks makes you pee just a little, you may be dealing with urinary incontinence. You may find yourself making frequent and urgent trips to the bathroom, or you may experience leakage when you sneeze, cough, jump or run, and that can be inconvenient, embarrassing and, well, just downright unbearable at times. The good news is there are plenty of natural remedies for incontinence, and research suggests these remedies may actually be more effective than certain invasive treatments. Read on for the best steps you can take at home to improve your bladder control.
What is incontinence?
Urinary incontinence, or a loss of bladder control, affects up to one-third of women in the U.S. And women are twice as likely to experience urinary incontinence as men — partly because pregnancy, childbirth and menopause can all weaken the muscles around the urinary tract, making it harder to hold in urine.
There are three main types of urinary incontinence:
Stress incontinence: You experience leakage when you cough, run, sneeze, or put physical pressure on your bladder.
Urge incontinence: You feel a strong urge to urinate, even when your bladder isn’t full.
Overflow incontinence: An underlying condition interferes with the ability to fully empty the bladder. When the bladder becomes too full, some urine may leak out.
Many women also experience functional incontinence, which means a physical limitation interferes with your ability to get to the bathroom in time. It's often associated with other health conditions and with aging. And then there's mixed incontinence, which is when incontinence is caused by multiple factors.
The best natural remedies for incontinence
Understanding the cause of your urinary incontinence can help you identify your triggers and figure out the most effective treatment options and prevention techniques. Treatment for functional incontinence generally involves treating the underlying health condition that's causing leaks, or by making it easier to get to the bathroom. If you're experiencing mixed incontinence, many of these strategies will help. Keep reading for the best expert-recommended options for each type of incontinence:
3 natural remedies for urge incontinence:
In this type of incontinence, you feel a strong urge to urinate, even when your bladder isn’t full.
1. Drink more water (really!)
If you feel like you’re sprinting to the bathroom every hour, drinking more water may seem counterintuitive. But proper hydration is important, because dehydration can actually make incontinence worse. “Dehydration can irritate your bladder and lead to feelings of urgency,” says Kandis Daroski, PT, DPT, a pelvic floor physical therapist and women’s health clinical consultant for Hinge Health. Dehydration can also contribute to constipation, she adds, which can put pressure on the bladder.
2. Retrain your bladder
Bladder training is one of the most effective natural remedies for urge incontinence. This form of behavioral therapy can help you regain control over your bathroom schedule — either by training your bladder to hold more urine, or by urinating at specific intervals. Here are a few common bladder training methods to try:
Delay your bathroom breaks. “You can try to get your bladder to hold more and go less often by not going to the bathroom at the very first urge and postponing urination a bit,” says Fenwa Milhouse, MD, a board-certified urologist, urogynecology specialist and owner of Down There Urology in Chicago, IL. For most people, holding your urine for a short period of time isn’t harmful — but always talk to your doctor first.
Set a schedule. If you can't control the urge when it strikes, postponing urination may not be an option for you. “In that case, you may need to urinate on a schedule, or what we call timed voiding,” Dr. Milhouse says. Timed voiding is the practice of going to the bathroom at predetermined time intervals, whether or not you feel the urge to pee. Once you’re comfortable, gradually extend your time intervals until you’re able to go for longer stretches between bathroom trips.
Skip the “just-in-case” pee. You probably grew up hearing the mantra of “go before you leave the house,” but this habit can actually disrupt your natural voiding schedule. “Trying to urinate without the urge can disrupt the natural reflex from your brain to your bladder and make you feel the need to go more often,” Daroski says.
3. Practice a simple urge-suppression technique
Sometimes, the urge to pee seems to come out of nowhere. If you have a sudden urge that’s hard to control, Milhouse suggests the following steps to quell it:
Try to remain calm, and sit down if you can.
Start doing fast, repetitive Kegel exercises (more on that below)
Continue doing this until you feel the strong urge go down.
Once the urge is down, get up and go to the bathroom.
2 natural remedies for stress incontinence
In this type of incontinence, you experience leakage when you cough, run, sneeze, or put physical pressure on your bladder.
1. Try Kegels
Kegel exercises are among the best natural remedies for incontinence. These are performed by tightening the pelvic floor muscles as if you’re holding in urine, then relaxing. (Click through to learn the right way to do Kegel exercises.)
2. Move your body
“Exercise is a total game changer for managing incontinence or urinary leakage,” Daroski says. "The pelvic floor muscles are interconnected with your core, hip, abdominal and spinal muscles, so an exercise plan that addresses how all these areas work together is the most effective way to improve urinary leakage. In fact, it’s so effective that organizations such as the American Urological Association and the American College of Physicians recommend it as a first-line treatment for urinary incontinence.”
Along with Kegels, she says, your exercise routine should also include:
Deep core exercises to strengthen the muscles supporting your abdominal muscles and spine (Click through for the best ab workouts for women.)
Hip and glute stretches to keep tight muscles from pulling or tugging on your pelvic floor and causing urinary urgency symptoms.
Hip and glute strengthening exercises to address any weak muscles that might be letting your pelvic muscles do more than their share of work. (Click through for a glute workout for women.)
Deep breathing exercises to help calm your nervous system, which can decrease feelings of urgency.
Posture-strengthening exercises to support the muscles that you use to stay upright. (Click through for posture exercises for women).
2 natural remedies for overflow incontinence
In this type of incontinence, an underlying condition interferes with the ability to fully empty the bladder. When the bladder becomes too full, some urine may leak out.
1. Sit, don't squat, on the toilet seat (yep, even in public)
If you tend to hover over the seat in public restrooms, as more than a third of women do, this can wreak havoc on your ability to fully empty your bladder — which, in turn, may contribute to overflow incontinence. “Hovering prevents your pelvic floor muscles from fully relaxing,” Daroski says. “This can lead to a disrupted stream or incomplete emptying of your bladder, therefore making you more prone to leakage or feelings of urgency.”
2. Pee twice in succession
Double voiding means urinating twice in the same bathroom trip, which can help to prevent overflow incontinence. It’s a great option for women who may retain urine due to a stretched out bladder, weak pelvic muscles, or a prolapsed uterus. You can give it a go by standing for 10 seconds when you think your bladder is empty, then sitting down on the toilet again, putting your hands on your knees, leaning forward, and doing your business.
3 natural remedies for any incontinence:
1. Avoid bladder irritants
“Certain foods and drinks can cause the bladder to go more frequently and more urgently,” Milhouse says. These foods should be limited as much as possible if you’re dealing with urinary incontinence. Some of the most common bladder irritants include:
Caffeinated beverages, including coffee and tea
Carbonated beverages, including soda and seltzer
2. Eat your fruits and veggies
Fruits and veggies have anti-inflammatory properties, which can boost bladder health and may lessen your risk of urinary incontinence. They’re also a source of dietary fiber, which can help you stay regular — and that’s important, because straining too hard to pass a stool can weaken your pelvic floor muscles.
S. Adam Ramin, MD, urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles, CA, recommends loading your plate with these fruits and veggies for their anti-inflammatory properties:
Red, yellow, and green bell peppers
3. Quit smoking
Research suggests smokers are more likely to experience urgency and urinary incontinence than non-smokers. “Smoking irritates your bladder, tobacco is damaging to your tissues, and chronic cough weakens your pelvic floor,” Milhouse says. (Click through to see how hypnosis helped one woman quit smoking.)
When to talk to your doctor
If urinary incontinence is interfering with your quality of life, let your doctor know ASAP. But even if you’ve tried the natural remedies for incontinence above and they’re working well, it’s still important to keep your doctor in the loop. “Far too often, patients wait years before going to the doctor, not knowing that they don't have to just accept or live with incontinence,” Dr. Milhouse says. Don’t just assume incontinence is an inevitable part of aging — there are plenty of treatment options available, ranging from home remedies to medications and surgical treatment options. Your doctor can help you determine which options will work best for you.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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