Vitality - Healthy Aging NewsletterSpring 2012

Women's Health

Urinary Leakage: You Can Take Control

When one Group Health member, who wishes to remain anonymous, first experienced incontinence around age 60, she was too embarrassed to bring it up with her doctor.

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"I figured I was just getting older and would have to learn to live with it," she says. "But when I couldn't make it to the rest stops during car trips anymore, I finally gave in." Her doctor recommended bladder training exercises and medication. "Now I take a pill a day, and it works great."

Many men and women over 60 experience incontinence, which can usually be managed by specific exercises, medication, or surgery. Your doctor will ask you about urinary incontinence as part of your Senior Well Visit, so if you have any symptoms or concerns, be sure to bring them up. Any leakage is worth discussing, whether it's mild or more severe.

Treatment depends on what type of incontinence you have. For men and women with stress or urge incontinence, your doctor may first recommend Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor and sphincter muscles, and bladder training to regain urge control.

One bladder training exercise is to wait two to three hours between emptying your bladder. If you need to go before that time, don't rush to the bathroom. Let the urge pass, then take slow breaths and do Kegel exercises to stop urine leakage. Try to wait at least another five minutes before you go. Add an additional five to 15 minutes each week until you can wait at least two to three hours between urinations.

For both men and women, if urinary incontinence is not improved by behavioral methods, then medication or surgery may be needed. Heidi Alford from Bellingham was referred by her primary care doctor to a urologist, who surgically placed a sling under her urethra. "Before that, I was leaking urine when I coughed, sneezed, stood up, or sat down," she says. "Now I can take a bus ride without worrying about whether I'll make it to the next bathroom. It was a life-changing event."

To help your doctor determine the best therapy, keep a diary of how much you drink each day, when you go to the bathroom, the amount of urine output, and what you're doing when leakage occurs. Bring the record to your next visit. Most importantly, don't hesitate to bring the topic up with your doctor.

Like the Group Health member in this article who wishes to remain anonymous, you may not want to share your news with all of Vitality's readers. But, she says, "If I had it to do again, I would have talked to my doctor much sooner."

Contact the Group Health Resource Line to request a daily bladder diary or pamphlets such as "Why Should I Do Kegel Exercises?" and "Bladder Control."

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