Life is gradually getting back to normal, but for thousands of people who suffer from incontinence, the lifting of lockdown restrictions has been an anxiety-inducing experience. Although 60% of the UK sees incontinence as a taboo subject, TENA is on a mission to combat the negative stigma associated with the condition and encourage those who have bladder and / or bowel issues to seek medical advice and treatment.
Specialist Nurse Advisor, Karen Irwin, at Bladder & Bowel UK, discusses her top tips for managing incontinence as we transition out of lockdown.
- Keep yourself healthy
Maintaining a healthy BMI (body mass index or weight) doesn’t mean you have to go on an extreme diet or push yourself out of your comfort zone. The key thing here is being healthy for yourself and your body – and this will be different for everyone.
There is a strong connection between BMI and incontinence; being overweight can put undue pressure on the pelvic floor muscles and cause incontinence. The benefits of even a minor reduction in weight can help to resolve the issue.
Maintaining a healthy BMI doesn’t involve cutting out certain food groups or spending every evening at the gym. It’s all about moderation. A couple of easy first steps are to ensure you’re eating a lot of fruit and vegetables, increase your fibre intake, cut down on saturated fats, and try to head out on a brisk walk for 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Get those steps up where you can!
With smoking, the health risks are obvious, but when it comes to incontinence, it’s the increased coughing which stems from a smoking habit that can add pressure to the pelvic floor muscles, raising your risk of incontinence. Try to give up smoking if you can; the NHS has a variety of support services and your GP or healthcare professional will be able to offer advice.
2. Don’t forget those pelvic floor exercises
There is a reason doctors and experts often talk about the importance of pelvic floor exercises – it’s because they work. Once you reach a certain age, it can seem like every conversation eventually circles back to that question – and this only becomes more prevalent after children.
Importantly, it’s not just the elderly or mothers that should be practising these exercises, everyone should be doing them. All women and men have pelvic floor muscles and the sooner you start exercising them, the sooner you’ll see the benefits. A recent survey conducted by TENA found that nearly half of the UK struggles with incontinence, with 10% per cent experiencing it before the age of 25.
Your pelvic floor is essentially a sheet of muscles, that sit, like a hammock, between your coccyx (tail bone) and pubic bone. They combine to support your bladder and bowel. Just like any other muscle group, you’ve got to work on it for it to get stronger. Much like you use the leg press at the gym to strengthen your thighs, you should be doing pelvic floor exercises to strengthen these muscles, and it’s important that you do them correctly.
You should also make sure you’re in the correct position when on the toilet. Try not to get into a habit of ‘hovering’ and use a step or stool under your feet to create a squatting position. All of this works to ensure your pelvic floor muscles can fully relax and there is less pressure on them when you are emptying your bowels.
- Gentle exercise
Try to avoid high impact exercise – vigorous gym activities and jumping can overload the pelvic floor, leading to unwelcome leaks. Lower-level exercise such as yoga or Pilates can really help to keep you supple and strengthen your muscles.
These exercises are great stress relievers and can even help to improve mental health, as incontinence can so often be linked to anxiety and depression. The meditational benefits of yoga help get to the core of these issues, to create a peaceful body and mind connection.
- Cut down on caffeine (and alcohol)
Don’t panic, we’re not saying to stop drinking coffee or wine completely! But caffeine and alcohol are both known to irritate the bladder and make symptoms worse, so it makes sense to cut these down where possible – especially during the early stages of your pelvic floor exercise regime.
Caffeine can irritate the bladder and alcohol is a diuretic; this causes you to urinate more often. Instead, substitute these options for water and if you struggle with water, herbal or fruit teas are a delicious alternative.
It is crucial to keep drinking water/fluids. While many sufferers of incontinence will avoid drinking, as this does appear to be the logical solution, it causes more problems. Doing this may make your urine stronger which will cause more irritation of the bladder. It’s all about drinking the right fluids at the right volume – try to drink at least 1.5 litres per day, though this does depend on age, health, activity levels and weather so do seek help from your doctor or nurse.
- Seek medical advice
The most important point on this list is, without a doubt, ensuring that you seek appropriate medical advice. As medical professionals, we’re here to help wherever we can. The worst thing to do is to suffer in silence; in a lot of cases this can create anxiety and make the symptoms worse.
Incontinence is a condition which affects an estimated 14 million people in the UK, so you are certainly not alone and you shouldn’t have to feel as though you are. GPs and healthcare professionals are experts and are trained to offer treatment and solutions to help to improve the condition.
It’s important to highlight any changes in bladder or bowel habits with your GP and while we understand that it’s worrying, it’s best not to put off seeking advice. They will be able to provide support and refer you to the appropriate service.
Bladder & Bowel UK are also able to help with lots of practical advice and you can find out more by visiting our website.