If you sometimes feel a few drops of urine trickle out during a big belly laugh or an explosive sneeze, take heart. You’re in a league with celebrities Whoopi Goldberg, Debbie Reynolds, Marie Osmond and Kris Jenner, who all have “come out” about a very common but embarrassing problem—stress urinary incontinence (SUI). With SUI, anything that puts pressure on the bladder (coughing, sneezing, exercising or lifting heavy objects) can cause leakage. And while it’s manageable, unfortunately too many women “manage” it by wearing pads or adult diapers and stressing over whether they smell of urine. In fact, the celebrities “came out” to act as spokespersons to help sell a particular brand of SUI pads. But there are much better approaches for this embarrassing condition than just enduring it and putting a pad on—natural approaches that minimize or even eliminate SUI or prevent SUI in the first place.
SUI develops when the pelvic floor muscles weaken. Such changes can be because of childbirth, postmenopausal estrogen depletion or just being overweight and out of shape. Other triggers include medications such as high blood pressure drugs (namely alpha-blockers such as Cardura and Minipress), antidepressants (such as Tofranil and Elavil) and diuretics, which can increase urine production…dryness during intercourse, which can inflame and, in turn, damage pelvic muscles…a chronic cough…holding your urine for too long…and constipation (carrying around stool puts extra pressure on your pelvic floor, and bearing down to force a bowel movement can also weaken and damage muscles).
But stress incontinence can be prevented, treated and even reversed with exercise and lifestyle changes, according naturopathic physician Holly Lucille, ND, RN, who practices in West Hollywood, California. Here are five ways to prevent, minimize and even eliminate SUI…
• Kegel faithfully. You probably know about Kegel exercixes. They strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, which is critical to preventing or overcoming incontinence. But it’s also likely that you don’t practice them as often as you should. Many women don’t, said Dr. Lucille, but regular practice will make a big difference in keeping SUI at bay.
Here’s a refresher on how to do Kegels—and how to make it a habit for optimal urinary health…
-Find the right muscles. Sit on the toilet, and try to stop the flow of urine midstream. That muscle action is a Kegel, and the muscle contraction you feel is your pelvic floor muscles in action.
-Hold the contraction. Tighten the muscle for five seconds, and relax it for five seconds. Work up to holding the contraction for 10 seconds and releasing it for 10. Do 10 repetitions three times daily whenever and wherever you want.
• Other exercises. Kegels aren’t the only form of exercise that can tone the pelvic floor and stave off SUI. Just about any kind will help. Especially helpful are walking and core-strengthening (exercises that work your abs and pelvic area).
• Eliminate irritating foods. Try cutting out of your diet substances that can be irritating to the bladder, such as alcohol and caffeine, which can be diuretic, to see if symptoms improve. Reintroduce the edibles one by one to identify any that may be the offenders.
• Lose weight. If you’re obese, start a weight-loss program. Exercise can do double duty as a weight-loss and muscle-strengthening tool. Eat plenty of fiber and drink lots of water, which will help you feel full and give you nutrient-rich calories. Staying hydrated and eating a fiber-rich diet is also important for keeping your bowels moving regularly.
• Try an estrogen cream. If you are postmenopausal, you might also want to talk to your gynecologist about a prescription for estrogen cream to offset the effects of hormone reduction in your body. It can help ease SUI by thickening the pelvic floor muscles and increasing blood flow to the area. And if you have vaginal dryness during intercourse, which can aggravate SUI, use plenty of lubricant.