What embarrassing health secret do teen athletes, guys in their 40s to 90s, midlife women and military parachute trainees share but rarely ’fess up to? Bladder problems. We’re talking dribbles, sudden leaks, mad dashes to the bathroom and pad-soaking floods.
Thanks to the billion-dollar absorbent-products industry — there are now even padded boxer shorts — it’s easier than ever to hide incontinence. But should you?
You may have heard that this wet-underwear issue is on the rise. More than half of women deal with it, and it has increased 30 percent in men just since 2002.
More guys than once thought — as many men as women — have bladder muscle spasms (aka overactive bladders), triggering panicky “gotta go” urges; however, these often are misdiagnosed as enlarged prostate problems. See a urologist to be sure. About 156,000 men have potentially life-saving prostate cancer surgery each year; 80 percent leak for at least six months, and up to 65 percent still have incontinence issues after five years.
That’s a lot of Depends and daily difficulties for loads of people. Incontinence dampens your enthusiasm for exercise, sex, going out (you’re always looking for a restroom), even attending meetings.
Yet few women and fewer men ask for help. The price of silence: missing out on improving stay-dry solutions. Among them:
Squeeze this. The exercises called Kegels help more than 80 percent of women with stress incontinence — the leak-when-you-sneeze type — stay way dryer. The surprise? They work for guys, too. Men with overactive bladders — the gotta-go-now-oops-didn’t-make-it-type — have fewer accidents when they do Kegels daily. So do men who’ve had prostate surgery.
The trick? Working the right muscles. Many people squeeze their butt, thigh or tummy muscles by mistake. To find your pelvic-floor muscles, do this: On your next bathroom trip, stop your stream of urine, then throw in the clench you’d use to hold back gas (yep, a fart). Those are the muscles you’re after. Squeeze, then completely relax them. Build up to 20 to 30 a day. Since nobody can see this, you can do Kegels anywhere: pumping gas, at your desk, in a grocery line.
Skip go-go-go drinks. It’s a no-brainer that your bladder is going to yell after chugging a giant bottle of water, but you may be overstimulating it in other ways. Caffeine, fizzy drinks, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, tomatoes and citrus can all trigger an overwhelming urge to go.
Keep a “pee diary.” For three days, write down what you do and when your bladder loses control. Then look for connections. You may find patterns you can change easily, like the afternoon urge that always hits after your big-gulp diet cola. You may also find connections your doctor can help with (see below), like a bladder that always acts up when you walk in the front door.
Work with your doc. You owe it to yourself if you’re not staying dry.
- Get a check for health problems or medications (like some blood pressure drugs) that can cause trouble.
- Be sure you’re doing Kegels correctly. If not, a physical therapist can quickly make a big difference.
- For overactive bladders, discuss hypnosis, visualization, acupuncture and bladder retraining techniques. All can put your brain back in control so you can stroll — not sprint — to the toilet.
- There are also prescription drugs that calm overactive bladders.
- Surgical techniques can help tightly shut your urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body) or reposition a bladder that shifted during childbirth.
- For women, a plastic ring called a pessary can also stabilize a shifty bladder or tighten a leaky urethra.
- There are other treatments too, including muscle injections and nerve stimulants.
Speak up. Soon you’ll be walking right past those pads in the drugstore and taking long road trips worry-free.
- Hormone changes
- Stressful exercise
- Obesity plus diabetes
- Prostate cancer surgery or radiation
The YOU Docs — Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen of Cleveland Clinic — are the authors of “YOU: Losing Weight.” To submit questions, go to www.RealAge.com.