Tips for Dealing with Urinary Incontinence (For Men)
What is urinary incontinence (UI)?
UI is the inability to control the flow of urine. This can range anywhere from leaking a little urine when you strain, sneeze, or cough, to a total lack of control of urine. UI is not painful. If you experience pain with incontinence, notify your doctor, as this can be a sign of infection.
UI can be caused by surgery or radiation therapy for cancers in the pelvis (prostate, rectal, gynecological cancers, etc.), or by the cancers themselves, which can damage or weaken the nerves and muscles used to control urine flow. Other things that can contribute to UI include: obesity, smoking, diabetes, older age. The main types of UI that occurs after cancer or cancer treatment include:
- Urgency incontinence is when you feel the "urge" to urinate but cannot make it to the toilet in time. This is generally due to bladder spasms and often responds to medical therapy.
- Stress urinary incontinence (SUI), is leakage of urine with exertion or effort and can happen when you cough, sneeze, lift something heavy, change position, swing a golf club or exercise.
- Overflow incontinence: inability to empty the bladder completely, which can cause incontinence when the bladder overflows.
- Continuous Incontinence: complete lack of control of urine flow.
You may have one type of UI or a combination. UI can be a temporary problem that occurs immediately after treatment, or it can develop years after radiation therapy. There are things you can do to improve your bladder health and strengthen the muscles in your pelvic floor (the muscles and supportive tissue located below the bladder).
How can I correct or prevent UI?
- Make a bathroom schedule for yourself. Urination typically occurs every 3-4 hours. Set routine times to go to the bathroom to help re-train the bladder.
- Limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, and spicy foods. These can irritate the bladder, leading to UI.
- Make time for a "just in case" bathroom stop before leaving the house, getting in the car, or going to bed.
- Avoid drinking large amounts of fluids before going somewhere where you will not have ready access to a bathroom.
Kegel exercises are used to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, decreasing episodes of UI. A doctor, nurse, or therapist can help you make sure that you are doing the exercises correctly. The area between your hip bones is the pelvis, and this is where the pelvic floor muscles are located. To strengthen them, you want to tighten the two most important pelvic floor muscles. This can be done by tightening as if you were trying to stop the flow of urine and tightening as if you were trying to stop passing gas.
Start with an empty bladder. Tighten the pelvic muscles and hold for a count of 5. Then relax for a count of 5. Do this 10 times, 3 times per day. Performing the exercises in three different positions (lying down, sitting, and standing) makes the muscles strongest. You can exercise while lying on the floor, sitting at a desk, or standing in the kitchen. You may not feel your bladder control improve for 3 to 6 weeks, so be patient.
- Protect your pelvic muscles by tightening them before a strain, such as sneezing, lifting, coughing.
- Biofeedback helps you become aware of your body's functioning so that you can learn to control some of those functions. This can be taught by a physical therapist.
- Small doses of electrical stimulation can be used to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. Electrodes are placed in the vagina or rectum to stimulate the muscles to contract, in turn "exercising" them.
- In some cases, medications, implants, injections and surgical treatments can be used to treat incontinence.
When to Contact Your Care Team
If you are experiencing urinary incontinence or pain / burning with urination, inform your care provider. There are effective treatments and actions to manage this condition.