Many people after a diagnosis seem to ask the question, “What could I have done to prevent this?” I wonder how many people ask this question when experiencing incontinence. I still hear a lot of people say, in regards to their incontinence, “Well, I’m getting older, what do you expect?” Last week at the annual meeting of the AUA (American Urological Association), world-renowned geriatrician Dr. Joseph G. Ouslander opened his lecture by saying that “Aging is inevitable, and the alternative is not good.” While this is absolutely true, incontinence itself is NOT an inevitable part of aging.
Incontinence can’t always be prevented. When incontinence is the result of a neurological condition, such as a spinal cord injury, leaking urine and feces may be unavoidable, although it can certainly be managed. Other contributing factors to incontinence that can’t always be controlled are prostate surgery, damaged nerves from a stroke, multiple sclerosis and estrogen loss due to menopause . But there are many things the average person can do to reduce their own risk factors for incontinence.
Sometimes it can seem a bit overwhelming trying to prevent every disease and condition in the world. The good news is that many contributing risk factors for incontinence are also risk factors for other health challenges, so you’ll be killing two (or perhaps even more) birds with one stone. These risk factors include obesity, smoking and caffeine consumption.
Pregnancy is also a risk factor. Many women won’t consider foregoing pregnancy in order to maintain continence, so realistically it probably isn’t a “preventable” risk factor. However, there is growing evidence that choices a woman (or her healthcare provider) makes during pregnancy and childbirth can increase or reduce the severity of incontinence post-partum. A woman may find it helpful to educate herself on the benefits of pelvic-floor exercises, the effects of forceps vs. vacuum delivery and types of episiotomies.
If you are not yet experiencing incontinence, you may want to establish healthy bladder habits in an effort to prevent it. Healthy bladder habits are advisable for most people, whether you are experiencing incontinence or not. These habits were published by a panel of experts at the 1997 Conference on Prevention hosted by The Simon Foundation for Continence:
• Drink an adequate amount of fluids (6-8 cups per day).
• Don’t strain to empty the bladder or bowel.
• Don’t ignore feelings that the bowel needs to be emptied.
• Seek medical help if you experience any leakage of urine; pain when passing urine; or blood in the urine.
If you are already experiencing incontinence, it is not necessarily too late to take steps towards preventing future incidences. See your doctor to determine the cause of your incontinence. If you’re overweight, make losing weight a priority (I had great success with Weight Watchers). If you smoke, stop. I’m sure I’m not the first to tell you this. If caffeine causes or aggravates your incontinence, go to bed earlier so you won’t need the morning coffee pick-me-up. Some medications can cause urine leakage. If this is the case, consult your doctor to see if there may be a replacement for your current medicine without this side effect.
For some, these steps may not work to alleviate your condition; however, there are still treatment and management techniques that you can try. Keep the lines of communication open with your doctor and keep working at it together until you find a solution you can comfortably live with.
Published On: June 01, 2006