Urinary incontinence can be described as the inability to control urination, leading to urine leakage or involuntary loss of urine.
It is a very common, and at times debilitating, urological disorder. According to the National Association for Continence (NAFC), it affects about 25 million Americans.
Urinary incontinence can be divided into three main types:
- Urge incontinence– occurs when an overactive or hyperactive bladder causes a sudden and intense urge to urinate causing involuntary loss of urine
- Stress incontinence– occurs when physical activities like vigorous exercise, jumping, coughing, sneezing or even laughing put pressure on the bladder and it releases urine
- Overflow incontinence– inability to completely empty the bladder, leading to frequent or constant dribbling of urine
Incontinence can be caused by a number of factors like age (the bladder muscles become weaker with increasing age), weakened pelvic floor muscles due to surgery or childbirth, enlarged prostate, menopause, an overactive bladder, nerve damage, urinary stones, urinary tract infections and constipation.
Plus, certain foods, drinks and medications may stimulate your bladder and cause temporary incontinence.
It not only can cause discomfort and embarrassment, but can also be harmful if urine is left in the bladder creating a breeding ground for bacteria. Incontinence is not a disease in itself, but a symptom of an underlying condition or disorder.
Thus, to get rid of this problem, you need to address its underlying cause. In addition to your doctor’s advice and treatment, you can try some natural home remedies and adopt lifestyle changes to control incontinence.
Make sure you get your problem properly diagnosed to rule out the possibility that it is a symptom of a more serious condition, such as cancer.
1. Pelvic Floor (Kegel) Exercises
Exercising your pelvic floor muscles can be a useful way to treat urinary incontinence, particularly in the early stages. It helps improve bladder control and reduce urine leakage in both men and women. It is beneficial for reducing stress and urge incontinence.
- Tighten your pelvic floor muscles and hold for a count of 8. If you cannot hold for 8 counts, just hold as long as you can.
- Now, relax the muscles for a count of 8.
- Do 8 to 12 repetitions of this exercise, 3 times a day.
Here’s a simple way to help locate your pelvic floor muscles: When emptying your bladder, stop urinating in midstream and then start again. The muscles you used during this task are your pelvic floor muscles.
You may want to seek the help of a physical therapist so that you do not end up practicing the wrong technique. Your physical therapist can also give you further advice specific to your case.
Note: While doing pelvic floor exercises, keep the muscles in your abdomen, thighs and buttocks relaxed. Avoid holding your breath during the exercises; instead, breathe freely. Make sure to empty your bladder before you begin the exercises.
You can also consider taking magnesium to help treat incontinence, especially if you experience other signs of magnesium deficiency like leg cramps at night. Magnesium is important for muscle relaxation throughout the body. Thus, it can help reduce bladder muscle spasms and allow complete emptying of the bladder.
A 1998 study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that taking magnesium hydroxide helped treat women with urge incontinence due to detrusor overactivity.
- Take 350 mg of magnesium hydroxide supplements twice daily for several weeks. Make sure to consult your doctor before starting this or any other supplement regimen.
- Include magnesium-rich foods like nuts, seeds, bananas and yogurt in your diet.
- You can also soak in an Epsom salt bath for 15 to 20 minutes, a few times a week. Epsom salt is made of magnesium sulfate. Soaking in an Epsom salt bath allows the body to absorb magnesium through the skin. To prepare this bath, stir 1 to 2 cups of Epsom salt in a bathtub filled with warm water.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D can also be used to control urinary incontinence because it helps maintain muscle strength. According to a 2010 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, women with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of developing pelvic floor disorders, including urinary incontinence.
- Soak up the early morning sunlight for about 10 minutes daily. It helps the body make vitamin D.
- Eat more foods rich in vitamin D, such as fish, oysters, egg yolks, fortified milk and other dairy products.
- You can also take vitamin D supplements, after consulting your doctor.
Yoga helps tighten the muscles that control the urethral sphincter and provides benefits similar to that of Kegel exercises. Moreover, yoga is good for relaxation and helps relieve anxiety and depression related to urinary incontinence.
A 2014 study published in the journal Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery found that a 6-week yoga therapy program helped control urinary incontinence in women with stress incontinence. The women who took part in the yoga program experienced an overall 70 percent reduction in the frequency of urine leakage.
To help control incontinence, you can try yoga poses like Root Lock (Mula bandha), Chair Pose (Utkatasana), Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) and Squat Pose (Malasana). Seek the help of a yoga trainer with knowledge on pelvic floor health, or join a yoga class to practice yoga properly.
Gosha-jinki-gan is a Chinese traditional herbal medicine that can be used to treat an overactive bladder and urinary incontinence. It is a combination of several different herbs.
Two small studies by Japanese researchers found that this herbal supplement can help improve urinary urgency, frequency and nighttime urination in people with an overactive bladder.
Take this herbal supplement after consulting your doctor, who can advise you on the proper dosage for your condition.
Short-leaf buchu (Agathosma betulina) is a great urinary tract tonic to improve the health of the urinary system. It is particularly beneficial for incontinence caused by a bladder infection because of its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and diuretic properties. Plus, it strengthens the tissues associated with urination and eases systemic irritation.
- Steep 1 teaspoon of this herb in a cup of hot water for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Strain and drink this tea a few times daily until you get positive results.
Note: Do not use this herb if you have pain and swelling in the urinary tract. Consult your doctor before trying this or any other herbal remedies.
7. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar works as an excellent tonic for your health. It helps remove toxins from your body and fights bladder infections. Moreover, it assists in losing weight. Excess weight contributes to urinary incontinence, as the fat around your hips and abdomen places extra pressure on your bladder.
- Mix 1 to 2 teaspoons of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in a glass of water.
- Add a little raw honey.
- Drink it 2 or 3 times daily until you are satisfied with the results.
Note: Do not take apple cider vinegar if you have an overactive bladder or if it irritates your bladder.
Cleavers is a traditional urinary tonic and helps treat urinary problems. It is particularly used to treat cystitis and overactive bladder. It protects against bladder irritation as it forms a soothing coating along the bladder.
- Steep 2 to 3 teaspoons of this herb in a cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Strain and drink this tea 3 times daily until you notice improvement.
Meditation and guided imagery can help you regain control over your body and reduce incontinence.
In a 2009 study, Loyola University Health System researchers found that cognitive therapy involving deep breathing and guided imagery exercises training the brain to control the bladder helped reduce the average number of urge incontinence episodes per week from 38 to 12.
Try relaxation and visualization exercises for a few weeks to notice an improvement in your condition.
According to Chinese medicine, acupuncture can help reduce urinary incontinence by strengthening the urinary system and correcting the imbalance of the kidneys.
It can help increase your ability to hold urine and reduce urinary urgency. Studies have also shown this therapy to be beneficial in treating incontinence, but further well-designed studies are still needed.
Get your acupuncture treatment done by a qualified acupuncturist. Some of the acupressure points used to treat an overactive bladder include LI 11, ST 36, BL23, BL28, BL31, BL32, BL39, KI3, GV4, CV3, CV 4 and CV6. Most of the acupoints for urinary problems are located on the lower abdomen and lower back.
- Add more fiber to your diet. Lack of fiber contributes to constipation that puts pressure on the bladder.
- Drink sufficient, but not too much, water.
- Lose excess weight.
- Exercise for at least 20 to 30 minutes, 5 days a week.
- Quit smoking. Heavy smokers are at greater risk of developing an overactive bladder.
- Steer clear of alcohol and caffeinated beverages including tea, coffee and some sodas. They can worsen an overactive bladder and contribute to bladder irritation.
- Avoid citrus fruits, tomatoes, vinegars, hot peppers and spicy dishes as they may irritate your bladder.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners. They tend to aggravate urinary urges and frequency.
- Maintain a consistent schedule of urinating every 2 to 4 hours, even if you do not feel like going.
- Keep track of your symptoms to help identify the triggers and help your doctor determine the best course of treatment for you.