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Regaining control

Leaking urine is something that happens to many women and becomes even more common with age. Leaks can occur as a result of pressure on the bladder, such as when you sneeze or exercise (stress incontinence); an urgent need to urinate, sometimes in the middle of the night or at the sound of running water (urge incontinence); the inability to empty your bladder (overflow incontinence); and a physical or mental impairment that makes quickly getting to the toilet impossible (functional incontinence).

Try these stay-dry tips to control your bladder and curb embarrassing leaks:

[1] Talk with your healthcare provider. He or she can determine whether an underlying condition is to blame—such as a urinary tract infection, damaged or weakened pelvic-floor muscles, diabetes, hormonal changes around menopause, interstitial cystitis (inflammation of the bladder wall), bladder cancer or urinary stones. Urinary incontinence can also be a side effect of surgery, such as hysterectomy, or medications like diuretics, muscle relaxants, antidepressants and high blood pressure and heart disease drugs.

[2] Perform Kegel exercises. These exercises strengthen the muscles that control urine flow. First, contract your muscles as if you were trying to hold in urine. Hold the contraction tight for 10 seconds. Relax for 10 seconds. Repeat 20 times, three times a day. You can perform Kegels while watching TV, sitting at your desk or standing in line at the store without anyone knowing.

[3] Train your bladder. Limit the times you go to the bathroom to specific intervals, such as every 30 minutes to two hours, whether or not you need to go. Gradually lengthen the time between intervals until you’re urinating every three to four hours.

[4] Drink up, but not too much. Guzzling large amounts of fluids can lead to leaks but so can getting dehydrated, which may result in concentrated urine salts that can irritate your bladder.

[5] Avoid or limit diuretic beverages. Alcohol and coffee cause your bladder to fill quickly, triggering an urgent need to urinate. Watch out for teas and carbonated drinks, too.

[6] Avoid bladder irritants. Citrus fruits and juices and artificial sweeteners can irritate your bladder and trigger urge incontinence.

Don’t resign yourself to living with urinary incontinence. With your healthcare provider’s care, you can avoid embarrassment, prevent urinary infections, sores and rashes and ensure that your quality of life doesn’t suffer.