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Always Looking for the Restroom? These Lifestyle Changes Can Curb the Urge

August 26, 2020

Do you know where all the public bathrooms are along familiar routes and highway exits? When you fly, do you anxiously eye how far your airplane seat is from the lavatories? 

These are telltale signs of overactive bladder, a chronic medical condition that is far more widespread and debilitating than many realize. Affecting an estimated 50 million Americans, overactive bladder is characterized by a strong, sudden need to urinate, frequent urination (including at night) and ultimately, urinary incontinence.

While we tend to think of these symptoms as afflicting the elderly, this is only partly true. As we age, our bladders become more irritable and more sensitive to what we ingest, such as spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine. Men can find that longstanding prostate conditions can cause similar symptoms. 

But overwhelmingly, women are twice as likely to suffer from overactive bladder than men, and some studies have found up to 40 percent of women are affected. This is significant, because overactive bladder inhibits one’s daily and social activities, including work, travel, exercise, sleep and sex life. Sufferers don’t always seek medical help for their condition, and many physicians are unaware of this chronic problem, according to the National Institutes of Health. If this is an issue for you, be proactive in discussing symptoms with your doctor or visiting a urologist. 

Can Lifestyle Changes Help? 

Some behavior changes may help, such as these recommended steps by the National Library of Medicine: 

  • Decrease your intake of caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods.

  • Avoid highly acidic foods, such as citrus.

  • Avoid drinking large amounts of water and instead sip smaller amounts throughout the day.

  • Control constipation and any issues with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

  • Stop drinking all fluids four hours before bedtime.

  • Avoid triggers that irritate the urethra/bladder, such as bubble baths or harsh soaps.

  • Try to practice urge suppression techniques, such as pelvic floor exercises.

Despite these measures, however, many of those affected will still require additional treatment. 

The Latest Advances May Help

Overactive bladder and urinary incontinence are treatable conditions with relatively non-invasive treatment. For more severe cases, therapies such as percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation, Botox injections to the bladder and sacral neuromodulation (SNM) therapy may help. 

SNM therapy provides gentle stimulation to the nerves that communicate between the brain and the bladder and bowel. It aids in restoring normal communication and can result in improved symptoms. The latest in SNM therapy is a new device that can be implanted and is designed to specifically address urinary and fecal incontinence. It’s rechargeable, controlled via a small remote device and is MRI-safe.

Quality of Life Concerns

Overactive bladder is largely a quality-of-life issue that depends on its severity. If you aren’t very bothered by it and can make lifestyle accommodations to adjust, therapy is unnecessary. If you are thinking about your bladder more often than not, have decided to avoid exercise or social settings — or if you are unable to sleep through the night — it may be time to discuss options with your doctor. Even if you have a parent or other family member who "just dealt with it" in the past, it doesn’t mean you have to.


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