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Managing bladder problems

There are various ways to manage incontinence or bladder problems and these will depend on the type of incontinence you have. It is important that you have a continence assessment by a continence professional so that an appropriate continence management plan can be developed. Usually, a continence management plan will include some of the following options:

  • drinking enough fluid every day (6-8 glasses)
  • eating plenty of high-fibre foods to prevent constipation
  • pelvic floor muscle exercises
  • learning how to sit on the toilet properly
  • bladder training program
  • medication 
  • incontinence aids such as pads, catheters or condom drainage.

Managing stress incontinence

Urinary stress incontinence is the leakage of small amounts of urine during activities that increase pressure inside the abdomen and push down on the bladder. This can include things such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, walking, lifting, or playing sport. If you leak urine during these activities, the best initial treatment may be pelvic floor muscles exercises.

Managing urge incontinence

Urinary urge incontinence is a sudden and strong need to urinate. You may suddenly need the toilet and perhaps leak some urine before you get there. The aim in managing urge incontinence is to improve control of your bladder by:

  • reducing the degree of urgency and accidental leakage of urine
  • gradually increasing the storage capacity or size of your bladder, and
  • increasing the period of time between visits to the toilet.

A bladder training program can help improve your bladder control. The first step is to seek professional help from a Continence Nurse Advisor as bladder training is always more effective with a Continence Nurse Advisor's support. You can contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 to find a local Continence Nurse Advisor.

You may also like to talk to your doctor about bladder training. There are specific prescription medicines which relax the bladder muscle and may improve the success of a bladder training program.

Bladder training aims to increase the amount of urine the bladder can hold without urgently needing the toilet or leaking urine. Learning to 'hold on' to urine can be difficult to start with, but for many it becomes easier with practice.

Before bladder training begins, you need to keep an accurate diary or record for three days of how often you pass urine. This diary will help to identify your pattern of passing urine and when accidental leakage is likely to occur.

Managing incontinence associated with chronic retention

Incontinence associated with chronic retention is when the bladder is unable to empty properly and frequent leakage of small amounts of urine occurs as a result. When urine continues to fill a bladder which is not properly empty you may experience an 'overflow' of urine with little sensation or warning.

Incontinence associated with chronic retention can cause serious damage to the bladder and kidneys and should always be treated and monitored by a continence professional. The bladder will need regular artificial emptying to prevent damage to the bladder or kidneys as a result of the backflow of urine. If you feel you are experiencing symptoms of incontinence associated with chronic retention, it is important to immediately see your doctor who can organise tests to diagnose the problem.

Managing functional incontinence

Functional incontinence is when a person does not recognise the need to go to the toilet or does not recognise where the toilet is. People experiencing functional incontinence often have someone caring for them or may be in residential care.

Functional incontinence can be managed by ensuring easy access to a toilet, clear signage, good lighting and a pleasant environment. Clothing that is easy to remove will also help the person to be able to access the toilet more easily.

It is also important that caregivers monitor the person's toilet routine and ensure assistance is available to them at their usual toileting time.

If you are caring for someone with bladder or bowel problems, practical tips and advice are available to assist you with your care. Read more on caring with someone with incontinence.