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Urinary Incontinence health centre

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Incontinence - 10 ways to stop leaks

NHS Choices Feature

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For many people with incontinence, the following self-help tips and lifestyle changes are enough to relieve symptoms.

1. Do daily pelvic floor exercises

Pelvic floor exercises can be really effective at reducing leakage, but it's important to do them properly. Find out  how to do pelvic floor exercises.

You may have to do pelvic floor exercises for three months before you see any benefits.

2. Quit smoking

If you smoke, you put yourself at risk of incontinence because coughing puts strain on your pelvic floor muscles. Advice to help you stop smoking is available from your GP or pharmacist. You can also call the NHS smoking helpline on 0800 022 4 322.

Read more about how to stop smoking.

3. Do the right exercises

High-impact exercise puts pressure on your pelvic floor muscles and can increase leakage. Sit-ups can also make you leak by straining your pelvic floor muscles. If you want to strengthen your pelvic floor to relieve symptoms, replace jogging and aerobics classes with Pilates. This gentle method of stretching and strengthening core muscles is becoming more popular as a treatment for stress incontinence. 

4. Avoid lifting if you have incontinence

Lifting puts strain on your pelvic floor muscles so avoid it wherever you can. When you do need to lift something, such as when picking up children or shopping bags, tighten your pelvic floor muscles before and during the lift.

5. Fight incontinence by losing weight

Being overweight can weaken your pelvic floor muscles and can cause incontinence because of the pressure of fatty tissue on the bladder. Your symptoms may improve, and could clear up completely, if you lose the excess weight.

To check whether you're a healthy weight, use our Healthy weight calculator. Your body mass index (BMI) is a measure of whether you're a healthy weight for your height.

Read more about how to lose weight.

6. Treat constipation promptly

Straining to empty your bowels weakens your pelvic floor muscles and makes leakage worse. Never delay the urge to empty your bowels. If you have constipation, it may help to change your diet and lifestyle. Eating more fibre and taking more exercise can help. It may also help if you change the way you sit and use your muscles to empty your bowels. A specialist physiotherapist can advise you on this.

Read more about food and diet.

7. Cut down on caffeine

Caffeine irritates the bladder and can make incontinence worse. Coffee has the biggest effect, so stop drinking it or switch to decaffeinated. Fizzy drinks, tea and cocoa also contain caffeine, so cut down on these too and replace them with water and herbal or fruit teas.

8. Cut down on alcohol to improve incontinence

Alcohol is a diuretic, a substance that makes you urinate more often. Cutting down may help your incontinence symptoms.

Read more about how to cut down on your drinking.

9. Drink plenty of water

Drink six to eight glasses of water a day (but not more) unless your doctor advises you otherwise. Many people with urinary incontinence avoid drinking fluids as they feel it causes more problems. However, limiting your fluid intake makes incontinence worse because it reduces your bladder's capacity.

10. Eat the right foods

Avoid spicy and acidic foods, such as curries and citrus fruits, as they can irritate the bladder and make leaks and other incontinence symptoms worse.

Now, read tips on living with incontinence.

Medical Review: October 19, 2012

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