Recognize the warning signs and symptoms of a bladder control problem. Know when you should seek a doctor's help and how you can get the most out of your visit.
If you're one of the many women who experience bladder control problems, don't let embarrassment keep you from getting the help you need. Leaking urine, frequent urination, and experiencing other symptoms of urinary incontinence aren't trivial consequences of childbirth or a natural part of aging.
Unfortunately, not all doctors routinely ask about urinary function during an exam. It's up to you to take the first step. If you have bladder control problems, tell your doctor about them and ask for help.
Why seek help
Bladder control problems require medical attention for several reasons. Untreated bladder conditions could:
- Cause you to restrict your physical activities
- Lead you to withdraw from social interactions
- Increase risk of falling if you have balance problems and often rush to the bathroom to avoid leaks
And most importantly, sometimes having a bladder control problem means you may have a serious underlying medical condition, such as diabetes or kidney disease.
When to seek help
A few isolated incidents of urinary incontinence don't necessarily require medical attention. And most people, as they age, will have to get up to urinate during the night. However, if the problem is starting to affect your quality of life, consider having your symptoms evaluated.
Make an appointment with your primary care provider if:
- You're embarrassed by urine leakage, and it's causing you to avoid important activities or social situations
- You often feel urgency to urinate, but sometimes don't make it to the washroom in time
- You often feel the need to pee but are unable to pass urine
- You notice that your urine stream is getting progressively weaker, or you feel as if you can't fully empty your bladder
Most of the time, symptoms can be improved. For example: A weakened pelvic floor can be treated using a pelvic floor exerciser such as the Elise. It is safe, health Canada approved, and drug free.
When to seek a specialist
Many health care providers can evaluate bladder control problems without referring you to a specialist. Due to a lack of understanding of urinary incontinence and available treatments, some providers may dismiss it as an inevitable consequence of childbearing, menopause, or aging. Other providers may lack the time, training, or experience that makes them more likely to consider you for evaluation or treatment.
If your doctor dismisses symptoms that have an impact on your quality of life, or if the treatments he or she prescribes fail, ask for referral to a specialist.
Doctors who specialize in urinary disorders include:
- A medical doctor that specializes in the care of older adults, often with emphasis on problems related to common quality-of-life issues, such as urinary incontinence.
- An obstetrician-gynecologist with additional training in problems that affect the pelvic floor — the network of muscles, ligaments, connective tissue and nerves that helps support and control the bladder and other pelvic organs.
- A urologist specializes in male and female urinary disorders, as well as the male reproductive system.
Bladder diary: A detailed symptom record
Before your visit, download a bladder diary or ask your doctor's office for one and how to use it so that you can track information for several days in a row.
A bladder diary is a detailed, day-to-day record of your symptoms and other information related to your urinary habits. It can help you and your doctor determine the causes of bladder control problems and the most effective treatments.
To figure out how much urine you pass, you can use any collection device that allows you to measure ounces or milliliters.
What to expect from treatment
As a first step, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to "train" your bladder, such as performing pelvic-strengthening exercises (Kegel exercises) and following a schedule for when you drink fluids and use the bathroom.
For some women, medications help. For others, surgery provides effect treatment. But, both medications and surgery have side effects you'll want to discuss with your doctor before deciding on these treatment options. What's best for you depends on the type and severity of your bladder control problem. Pelvic floor exercisers do not require a prescription and may be useful while you are waiting for your other treatment.
Your bladder control problems may significantly improve after treatment. Any improvement, however, counts as a success, as long as it helps you to do what you like and enhances your quality of life.