Incontinence is a condition that affects over 25 million people. Add in things like overactive bladder and other pelvic floor disorders and that number jumps dramatically. And yet, despite that, many people don’t seek treatment. And those that do tend to wait on average 7 years before even addressing their condition with a doctor.
This lack of treatment is likely due to a number of reasons: embarrassment, an underlying (and untrue) belief that incontinence is just a normal part of aging, or a general feeling that nothing can really be done to treat the condition.
Whatever the reason, there is never a better time to start treatment than right now, and there are many things you can do to get the process started. Read through the below paragraphs to learn how you can get on the path to treatment as early as today.
Before you visit a doctor…
Believe it or not, there are lots of things you can do to treat your incontinence that may not even involve a doctor visit.
Start by finding the right absorbent product.
You may have already dabbled in the world of absorbents, but if not, you’ll soon find out that the array of choices can be a bit overwhelming. There are products for daytime, nighttime, working out, and everything in between. Products also differ by severity of your condition, with some specific to mild to moderate leaks and some tailored to heavy bladder leaks. Styles vary too – you can choose from reusable or disposable products, pads, pull ups, pull ups with tabs or without…the list goes on and on.
Don’t get discouraged if it takes a few tries to find the right product for you. It’s worth it in the end to go through the trial and error of finding something that works for you. A well-fitting product will best protect you from accidental leaks. Try contacting a mail order company, where you can speak with a representative to help guide you through the process of picking an absorbent product, and will then deliver them directly to your house.
Keep a bladder diary.
Another great activity you can start right now is to use a bladder diary to track your leaks. A bladder diary helps you to track what you’re eating and drinking, and also the different activities you’re doing when you experience the leaks. Over time, you may start to see a pattern emerge. Perhaps you only have an accident in the morning after you’ve had your coffee. This may signal that caffeine is irritating your bladder, so you may want to try to avoid it for a few days to see if that does the trick. More than anything, a bladder diary can also help paint a clear picture for your doctor of your condition, which will help him/her develop a treatment plan for you moving forward.
Take stock of your pelvic floor strength.
The pelvic floor plays an important role in your bladder health. A weak pelvic floor may cause various issues such as incontinence, back pain, or even pelvic organ prolapse. You can measure your own pelvic floor strength and, if it’s weak, you can ask your doctor or physical therapist about starting kegel exercises. Kegels can help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles to prevent bladder leaks and are easy to do from the comfort of your own home. There are even devices that can help you perform these exercises and help you track your progress.
Practice bladder retraining.
Learning to train your bladder to hold urine for longer periods of time may help with bladder leaks. This can be done by scheduling bathroom visits, or delaying urination by small increments of time, until you build up to being able to hold your urge to urinate for 3-4 hours. Learn more about how to perform bladder retraining here.
Talking with your doctor…
This may feel like a scary step for you. Take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Nearly 30% of respondents in a recent NAFC survey stated they felt uncomfortable talking to their doctor about incontinence. But the good news is that there are things that you can do to make the conversation easier.
As stated above, try filling out a bladder diary before you go, so you have a point of reference when talking to your doctor. Be ready to answer questions about the frequency and severity of your leaks, the medications or supplements you’re taking, and anything else that may be impacting your bladder control. Be honest with your doctor and make sure to tell them how your bladder leaks impact you. Even if you are experiencing mild leaks, if they are making you feel embarrassed, ashamed, or depressed, it’s worth discussing, and is important for your doctor to know.
While most doctors are well versed in discussing incontinence with their patients, there are some doctors that may cause you to feel unsupported or may not take your concerns as seriously as you’d hoped. Our advice to you if you find yourself in this situation is to be persistent and to demand treatment from your doctor. Incontinence is not a normal part of aging and should be taken seriously. If for some reason your doctor still doesn’t offer help, or dismisses your concerns, find a new doctor.
After you talk to your doctor….
It may seem like once you’ve discussed your issue with your doctor you’ve done your part. In reality, your journey has just begun. Now that you have a treatment plan in place you have a couple of new jobs to do: stick with the plan, and re-evaluate with your doctor as needed.
A recent survey by NAFC showed that of the people who stated that their doctor started them on a treatment, less than half were still on that treatment. What’s worse, only 39% of patients who saw a PCP said that their doctor followed up well with them.
We get it. Not every treatment is going to work for everyone, and there may be side effects that make certain things that you try not worth the outcome. But, one of the things we have stressed time and again on this blog is that you are your own advocate. If something doesn’t work for you, it’s not a big deal – there are loads of treatment options available and it may take some trial and error before you find the one that works best for you. But you need to be persistent in giving a treatment a chance, and then be willing to try something different if it ends up not working for you.
You also need to make sure you’re following up with your doctor. Your doctor may or may not check in with you to see how your treatment is going, but it’s up to you to speak up if you need to make a change. Don’t wait for your doctor to call you. Keep track of your progress and let him or her know if something isn’t working, or if you’re experiencing unwanted side effects.
Of course, none of the above tips are any help if you’re not actually willing to start seeking a solution. Getting started may feel like the hardest part, but once you get past that hurdle, you’ll be on your way to fewer leaks, and a better quality of life.