A woman's bladder shouldn't leak. It should be able to contain your urine inside your body until you are ready to expel it no matter how far you run, how high you jump, how many times you sneeze, or how hard you laugh. However, the truth is that for some women, leaks happen. Childbirth, aging, injury, weight gain or even genetics can cause female incontinence. So, what's a woman to do? "You may leak a little, but if it doesn't bother you it's fine," said Jolyn Hill, MD, an urogynecologist at University of Utah Health's Pelvic Care & Incontinence Center. "But if it's bothering you then it's time to take action."
The most basic action you can take is to limit how much liquid you consume. In recent years a belief has been pushed that the more liquid - specifically water - you drink, the healthier you are. However, that isn't really the case. "There really is no science behind the idea that you have to drink 8 glasses of water a day," said Hill. "The best thing to do is to drink when you are thirsty. Your body is a great thermometer of when you need water."
Another action you can take is to reduce the number of bladder irritants in your diet. These are foods and drinks that may cause discomfort in your bladder or increase your urinary urgency. "The most common bladder irritants are coffee, tea and soda," said Hill. "But foods that are spicy, or high in acid can also be irritating."
There are times when limiting liquids and diet alterations aren't enough. In that case, it's best to see a doctor to determine what is causing your leakage, and the best treatment. "There are two primary causes of leakage," said Hill. "One is called stress urinary incontinence. This is when the muscles of the urethra aren't as supported as they used to be. The other is urgency urinary incontinence. It's not a problem with the anatomy, but with signals being sent between the brain and the bladder."
Your doctor may want you to work on strengthening your pelvic muscles to reduce the risk of leaking. This can be done with exercises like Kegels. You may also be referred to a pelvic floor physical therapist to help with other exercises to improve strength. "Your doctor may also recommend a device called a pessary to help brace the urethra," said Hill. "Some women may wear these only when exercising, while other may prefer to wear them more regularly."
Surgery is another option when it comes to treating leakage. Mesh can be placed under the urethra to support it. "This type of mesh is not the type making headlines for safety issues," said Hill. "This type of mesh is approved by the FDA and has a very small risk for complications."