Do you schedule your life around trips to the bathroom?

Incontinence and overactive bladder can make life miserable, but there are non-surgical ways to help

You are on your way to an important meeting at the office and all of a sudden there’s that moment you have come to dread: a strong need to dash to the ladies’ room.

Many women struggle with overactive bladder (OAB) or urge incontinence, a condition in which your bladder contracts involuntarily and you wind up leaking urine because you can’t make it to the restroom in time.

Sadly, many women think there isn’t anything they can do about OAB. Or they believe that nothing short of surgery will provide relief. Some women shy away from leaving home because they want to stay near the bathroom.

The good news is you don’t have to let an overactive bladder rule your life. There are a number of strategies that can greatly improve the quality of your life — without surgery.

For starters, there are factors that make it more likely a woman will develop an overactive bladder: multiple pregnancies, being overweight and having a family history of the condition.

You can’t do anything about your family history. But if you are overweight, you may find that losing weight reduces that urge to go.

Mind over bladder

Another technique is biofeedback, or learning to train your bladder and avoid accidents. It’s called “timed voiding” because you will establish a schedule for going to the bathroom.

Here’s how it works:

  • You fill in a chart of the times you go to the bathroom on your own, plus the times you can’t make it to a bathroom.
  • Patterns in your chart will let you known when you are prone to leaking urine and you should go to the bathroom sooner — before you have an accident. (If you are worried that you will forget, set an alarm on your phone or watch to remind you.)

After you get the hang of it, you can strengthen your bladder by timing trips to the bathroom farther apart.

Some women cut back on fluids in an attempt to control leaking. Often the opposite occurs. Women have more accidents because their urine becomes more concentrated and irritates the bladder.

Keep your urine diluted by drinking small amounts of water during your waking hours. Drink less a few hours before bedtime so you won’t have to visit the bathroom as often at night.

Diet and exercise

Diet matters, too. Avoid caffeine, artificial sweeteners, citrus fruits and spicy foods that can irritate the bladder. Some patients tell us their situation improved when they gave up diet sodas.

Your doctor can refer you to a physical therapist who acts as a personal trainer. You can learn exercises that will strengthen the muscles under your uterus, bladder and bowel that will give you greater control over your trips to the bathroom.

In addition, there are effective medications on the market to treat OAB, including tablets, gels and patches. They work by relaxing the bladder, which reduces spasms and leaking.

The first step to getting relief is scheduling an appointment with a urogynecologist, a doctor who cares for women and is specially trained to diagnose and treat pelvic floor conditions. (The pelvic floor is the area of the body that includes the muscles that control your bladder.) Together, you can come up with a plan to address your overactive bladder.