This article has been reviewed by Dr. Benjamin Gold, DO.
We understand that incontinence can make it more difficult to be in public. Whether it is managing incontinence while you go for a few hours to the movies or a busy day at work, incontinence has the potential to create embarrassing situations in public. Some people find that their incontinence may even keep them from going out in public at all. Fortunately, you don’t have to change how often you go out in public because of your incontinence. There are several strategies that you can use to reduce incontinence and avoid potentially embarrassing situations while you are away from home.
What is urinary incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is the loss of control of your bladder, which can cause you to urinate at unexpected times. There are several types of incontinence with different causes. These include:
- Stress Incontinence - Stress incontinence occurs when the muscles that control urination are weak or damaged. This causes you to unexpectedly urinate when you cough, sneeze, exercise, or do anything else that increases pressure on your bladder.
- Urge Incontinence - Urge incontinence, also known as overactive bladder (OAB), happens when the bladder suddenly contracts when it shouldn’t. This can be caused by nerve damage to the nerve controlling the detrusor muscle. This creates a sudden urge to go and leaking before you are able to get to the bathroom.
- Mixed Incontinence - Mixed incontinence is a combination of both stress incontinence and urge incontinence. This form of incontinence is more common in females.
- Overflow Incontinence - Overflow incontinence happens when you do not empty your bladder fully and it fills up too much. When your bladder is too full, urine leaks out. This form of incontinence is more common in men.
Understanding the different types of incontinence will help you better understand what is causing incontinence in your particular situation, making it easier to understand what treatment options and tips are best for your specific situation.
When going out in public, planning ahead and knowing roughly how long you expect to be away from home will help you avoid potential problems. The simplest effective option for managing incontinence in public is to use adult briefs. Adult briefs are specially designed, disposable undergarments that absorb urine and keep it from leaking out of the brief. While some people may view wearing a brief as using an “adult diaper”, which can have negative connotations, many types of adult briefs are designed to be worn by active adults of all ages. Many adults wear discreet adult briefs and find that it does not affect their lifestyle or ability to wear their normal clothes. Ensure that you have enough briefs with you for the length of time that you anticipate being out.
Scheduling Bathroom Breaks
Scheduling bathroom breaks can be an effective way of managing incontinence in public. Instead of waiting for an urge to urinate, try using the bathroom at regular intervals. This helps you to avoid having a full bladder that is more likely to leak. The time that is best for spacing these intervals apart will depend on your specific situation. You can start with intervals that are two hours apart and adjust your timing from there based on if you are still experiencing episodes of incontinence. If you are in a public setting it may help to set an alarm on your phone to remind you to use the bathroom. This can help you to relax and not be distracted by your toileting schedule.
Doing Kegel Exercises
Kegel exercises are very simple, quick exercises that strengthen the muscles of the pelvis, including muscles that control urination. Doing Kegel exercises involves flexing and relaxing specific muscles in the pelvis. The muscles that you flex to stop urinating are the muscles that you need to flex and relax during Kegel exercises. Flex and relax these muscles ten to twenty times each exercise, and try to do this five times a day. As these muscles strengthen, you will likely see an improvement in stress incontinence symptoms.
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
The two main lifestyle factors that can affect incontinence are weight and smoking. The increased pressure from excess weight on the bladder can lead to increased stress incontinence and can weaken the muscles in the pelvis that control urination. Losing even a small amount of weight can lead to improvement in incontinence symptoms. Some people who regain a healthy weight may even have incontinence completely resolve.
Smoking is an irritant to the bladder and can lead to chronic coughing. Both of these factors will increase symptoms of stress incontinence. If you have stress incontinence or mixed incontinence, stopping smoking can help you to avoid being incontinent in public.
Paying Attention to Hydration
Some people with incontinence may avoid drinking water before going out in public to avoid being incontinent. This can lead to dehydration and can be unhealthy. Drinking water whenever you feel thirsty is healthy, but be mindful of when you drink water and be sure to plan on using the bathroom afterward. It will also help if you try to avoid drinks that will irritate your bladder, such as soda or coffee. These drinks will not only increase the amount of urine you produce, but will also cause you to need to drink more water, increasing your urine production even more.
Following Medical Advice
If your doctor has prescribed medications or has given you instructions on how to manage your incontinence, then following those instructions carefully will help your incontinence to improve. Many treatments must be consistently followed to see positive effects. Sometimes a doctor may recommend using catheters or having surgery to help manage your incontinence. If you have questions about whether this could help you to manage your incontinence in public, then you should consider talking to your doctor about these options.
Managing your incontinence in public can seem daunting, and it is easy to think about the possibility of potentially embarrassing accidents. The good news is that incontinence does not have to affect your ability to go out in public. Thirteen million Americans have incontinence; you likely have spent time with someone with incontinence in public and didn’t even know it. With planning ahead for being in public and taking healthy steps to reduce incontinence, you can easily manage your incontinence discreetly.