Although most people think of incontinence as an elderly person’s issue, a leaky bladder can occur at any age, to both women and men. In essence, a leaky bladder is the chronic involuntary leakage of urine from your bladder. The issue is both physically inconvenient and mentally frustrating, and it can keep you from taking part in the things you enjoy, like going out with friends or hitting the gym. Read on for more information around why incontinence occurs—and what you can do about it.
Leaky bladder is classified as any sort of urinary leaking, even very small amounts.
Continence is controlled by the brain, the nervous system, the bladder, the urethra or prostate, and the muscles of the pelvic floor—a complex system of organs and muscles. Two valves in the bladder control the flow of urine, and if any part of the whole system isn’t working (due to neural damage, sphincter or bladder damage, pelvic floor issues, or other issues), incontinence can occur.
Temporary incontinence might also occur from drinking alcohol or caffeine, or taking heart or blood pressure medicines, according to the Mayo Clinic.
There are two common types of incontinence, and you can experience one or both together: urge and stress incontinence. Urge incontinence occurs when the bladder has a functional issue (e.g. you need to pee all the time or feel like you have to pee when you don’t. This may be linked to nerves in the bladder, hormonal changes, surgery, childbirth, or even dietary habits.
On the other hand, stress incontinence is due to weakness in the sphincter or other issues. It could also be caused by loss of support in the bladder and pelvis, or, for men, due to prostate cancer treatments like radiation.
A third, less common type is called overflow incontinence—when you have leftover urine that needs to be let out—also due to nerve damage or injury.
Other types of incontinence might come from holes in the urinary tract, diseases, spine injuries, or stroke. It’s key to speak with your doctor to figure out what could be going on and how to treat it, as some types of incontinence mirror others.
It can happen to anyone. Ever leak urine during exercise? It may be a symptom of a leaky bladder. Ever have to cross your legs when you cough or sneeze? Yep, you could be dealing with a leaky bladder, too.
Certain lifestyle choices may increase a person’s risk for a leaky bladder, according says Cynthia Neville, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Director of Pelvic Health and Wellness at FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Centers in Bonita Springs, Florida. For instance, smoking has been associated with developing urinary incontinence. High impact activities, like trampoline jumping, could create bladder control problems as well.
According to the Review of Urology, men tend to experience incontinence less than women (around 3-11 percent of men). But that isn’t just because women experience incontinence due to childbirth (giving birth can weaken the pelvic muscles and cause a leaky bladder). In fact, The Annals of Internal Medicine found that 12.6 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 30 have dealt with the issue, and these were women who had never been pregnant and were otherwise healthy individuals.
Options are available. According to the Mayo Clinic, you might try bladder training (learning to hold it), double voiding (trying to pee more each time you go), scheduling your bathroom visits, managing your diet, medicines, electrical stimulation, Botox, devices inserted into your urethra, or surgery. Many women, especially after childbirth, can strengthen their bladder through exercises. Specifically, Neville recommends pelvic floor muscles exercises (a.k.a. kegels).
“The correct contraction of the pelvic floor muscles is when a person squeezes and lifts the muscles that stop gas and urine,” says Neville. “Practice contracting as if stopping both gas and urine at the same time. Contract pelvic floor muscles strongly, but try not to overuse the abdominal or gluteal muscles during the contraction.” Contractions should be held for 10 full seconds and repeated 10 times, three times a day.
Oh, and men can do kegels, too! Squeeze the muscles that prevent gas from passing, and hold the contraction for three seconds. Aim for three sets of 10 per day.
If these exercises don’t seem to be helping with your symptoms, Neville recommends meeting with a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor rehabilitation.