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Dawn DuBois, MHS, St. Luke's Hospital

Simple lifestyle changes may improve bladder control

Do you wake up two or more times at night to go to the bathroom? Do you leak urine when you cough? You shouldn't have to. Although bladder control issues affect one in three women, you can do things to improve them.

Urinary incontinence, also known as loss of bladder control, is unexpected leaking of urine that is bothersome. It can be caused by a number of things, and there are ways to effectively treat it.

It is normal to have to urinate every three to four hours, six to eight times a day, zero to one times at night. If your bladder function falls outside of that, a good first step is to look at lifestyle habits that can increase risk of incontinence:

Smoking - Nicotine can be a bladder "irritant," making the bladder more active. Smoking also can cause a chronic cough, which increases abdominal pressure, weakening the bladder and muscles that support the urethra (the tube that drains urine from your bladder).

Weight - Extra body weight increases incontinence risk by putting more stress on the pelvic floor muscles, muscles in the pelvis that support the bladder, rectum, urethra and uterus.

Diet/Fluid Habits - Certain fluids and foods can irritate the lining of the bladder, causing it to be overactive, including alcohol, caffeine, coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, spicy foods, citrus fruits and juices, tomato products, sugars, medicines with caffeine and artificial sweeteners.

Many people think limiting fluid intake will cause them to go to the bathroom less and reduce the chance of urine leakage. If you drink too little, your body does conserve fluid by decreasing what the kidney and bladder eliminate. But while the amount of urine decreases, it also becomes stronger and more concentrated, causing the bladder to contract more actively than normal. Drinking small amounts of water throughout the day is best.

If you suspect something bothers your bladder, eliminate it from your diet for a few days to see if it makes a difference. If it does, you don't have to permanently change your diet, just pay attention to timing, and use it in moderation.

If these lifestyle changes don't help, talk with your doctor about other effective treatment options including pelvic exercises, physical therapy, medication and surgery.

Dawn DuBois is an exercise physiologist and certified Total Control TM pelvic health instructor at St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-205-6654 or visit St. Luke's Total Control information page .

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 2, 2011.