Bladder Training: How to Train Your Overactive Bladder
An overactive bladder can disrupt your life. However, you don't have to resign yourself to living with the discomfort and anxiety that often accompanies incontinence or urine leakage.
You can take steps to retrain your bladder to extend the time between bathroom breaks and lessen the risk of experiencing leaks at inconvenient times. Overactive bladder training can help you get your life back so you can focus on the things that matter to you, from spending time with family and friends to pursuing your favorite hobbies without worry.
What Is Bladder Training?
Bladder training is a technique that can prevent leaks and emergencies by teaching your bladder to empty only when you want it to. Overactive bladders and urinary incontinence in adult women are common, with 50% having symptoms in varying levels of severity. This percentage climbs to about 75% for women over the age of 65, yet only a fraction of those affected seek help. This is in part due to embarrassment or misconceptions that urine leakage is a normal occurrence with childbirth and age. The most prevalent types of urinary incontinence include:
- Stress incontinence when pressure from laughing, sneezing, exercising, or another activity puts pressure on your abdomen and causes urine leakage
- Urge incontinence when the bladder contracts before it's full, causing a strong and sudden urge to visit the bathroom
- Mixed incontinence when the above two types affect the same person
Scheduling bathroom visits and not running to the bathroom as soon as you need to go, referred to as urination delay, are two popular training techniques that have helped many women control their urge to urinate.
Practicing these techniques can help with leaks because they train your bladder to be patient and hold urine for longer periods of time. Other benefits include holding more liquid and gaining greater control over the urge to urinate.
Keep a Bladder Diary
Start with a bladder diary to log each time you head to the restroom. This is simply a record of each time you go, the amount of urine you pass, and any bladder leaks that happen between bathroom trips. It’s a good idea to include your food and beverage intake in your diary. Drinking too many fluids before bed can contribute to nighttime incontinence, and certain foods and drinks act as irritants to the bladder and could make incontinence worse. Some women often experience leaks during exercising, laughing, sneezing, or coughing.
Keeping a bladder diary is an excellent way to spot patterns and triggers and track your progress. You and your doctor can use it as a guide to help you find the best strategies and lifestyle changes to manage your overactive bladder or leakage problems. Your diary is also the best source of information to help you create a bathroom schedule that works on retraining your bladder.
Schedule Your Bathroom Visits
The second part of the training involves following a schedule to void your bladder. You set specific times and use the bathroom at each one whether you feel the need to urinate or not.
Begin by emptying your bladder as soon as you wake up each morning and at regular intervals throughout the day. For example, if your bladder diary shows you normally go to the bathroom every 45 minutes, you would schedule your bathroom visits 60 minutes apart. Once your bladder is comfortable with this amount of time, adjust your bathroom visits to every hour and 15 minutes.
Your goal is to increase the time between your bathroom trips until you're going every 2 to 4 hours. Just like with any exercise routine, it's important to listen to your body and take it slow. Increase the time in 15-minute increments and make sure you are comfortable with your new bathroom schedule for at least 3 days before you add longer intervals to your schedule.
When to Not Follow Your Bladder Schedule
Sticking to a rigid schedule when you’re already busy is tough, but it can be done. If you get off schedule, don't beat yourself up. Instead, get right back to it. Setbacks are normal and should not discourage you from your goals. As long as you put in a consistent effort, you should see progress with your training and experience good days more often.
Aside from the occasional hectic day that throws off any routine, there are a few times when it's OK to break with your bladder training schedule. The first is when you have plans that would prevent you from being able to go to the bathroom at your scheduled time. This could be a doctor’s appointment, a long drive, a movie, or an important dinner. If that's the case, go to the bathroom beforehand and pick up your schedule as soon as you can afterward.
You also shouldn't follow your schedule to train your bladder when you go to bed. A good night’s sleep is crucial for overall health and happiness, so let yourself sleep as long as possible through the night. If you wake up with the urge to go, it’s perfectly fine to get up and use the bathroom. Just don’t set an alarm to purposefully wake yourself up. Once you gain better control through your training, you can challenge yourself to go back to sleep when an urge wakes you up instead of getting out of bed at 2 a.m.
What if You Feel the Urge to Go Before Your Schedule?
If you feel the urge to go before your next scheduled bathroom trip, there are several urge suppression techniques you can try.
Urination delay is the fancy term for not running to the bathroom every time you feel the urge to go. It can help with both leaks and urges. When you feel like you have to go, try holding it for 2 to 5 minutes. Once you master that, increase the time to 5 to 10 minutes. Gradually continue to increase the time you delay urination in increments of 10 minutes.
Teaching your bladder it won't necessarily be emptied as soon as you feel the urge can help with accidental leaks because it trains your bladder to hold it for longer periods of time. You should eventually work your way up to 3 or 4 hours between bathroom visits.
If you get struck by a sudden and strong urge to go, try a few ways to distract your mind. One approach is to think about a very complicated task, such as remembering the words to your favorite childhood song or making a list of the bills you have to pay. Another is to start counting backward from 100 to refocus your attention away from your bladder. You can also try a relaxation technique, such as a deep breathing exercise. You may find it helpful to sit down and concentrate on relaxing your muscles until the urge passes. Kegel exercises are one more technique that can help you control the urge to run to the restroom.
If your delay and distraction techniques work for you, continue to follow your bathroom schedule. However, if you feel like you can’t hold it any longer, go ahead and use the bathroom. Afterward, stick to your bathroom schedule to continue your retraining efforts.
Watch Out for Bladder Triggers
Lots of people have certain activities that trigger bladder urges and leaks. Common triggers include water-related activities, arriving home, and sharp movements, such as sitting up or dancing.
Certain foods and drinks can also irritate the bladder and lead to more frequent urges to urinate. Trigger beverages can include caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks. Potentially problematic foods are acidic citrus fruits, such as lemons and grapefruits, spicy foods, tomatoes, and chocolate. You can avoid these known irritants for a while and gradually add them back into your diet to discover if they have any negative effects on your incontinence. Sometimes, simply reducing your intake works, so you don’t have to give up a favorite food or beverage entirely. Until your confidence increases in your training efforts and results, you may want to watch out for your triggers.
Keep in mind that strong emotions and hormone levels can make bladder control issues worse, so if you find times when you are nervous, sick, or experiencing any kind of turmoil, this is to be expected. Stay positive and treat yourself with kindness.
The Bottom Line
Living with leaks can be a burden, but with the right bladder training techniques, you might gain some control over your body. It's important to remember to be patient, too. Bladder issues don't form overnight and won’t disappear overnight either. It usually takes about 6 to 8 weeks to start noticing results from your retraining techniques.
If you have a few setbacks, keep yourself in a good frame of mind and be patient. You can also check in with your doctor to discuss your progress and get further advice as you retrain your bladder.
While you're working on your bladder, make sure to carry bladder leak pads just in case. They are discreet and comfortable and come in a range of options, so you can select the size and absorbency you need. Shop Nexwear today to get pads and underwear delivered straight to your door.