18th February, 20226 min read

How to cope with urinary incontinence

Medical reviewer:
Dr Ann Nainan
Dr Ann Nainan
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Author:
Libby Williams
Libby Williams
Last reviewed: 16/02/2022
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Whether you’re leaking urine when you cough or sneeze, or you keep urgently needing to pee - and don’t always make it to the loo - incontinence can have a big impact on your confidence and quality of life.

Lots of women end up rearranging their lives around the issue, avoiding activities that might trigger leaks or making sure they’re always near a toilet. You may be worried about stains on your clothes, smell or incontinence pads being visible.

On top of that, worrying you may wet the bed can keep you awake at night. And if you have an overactive bladder, you may wake repeatedly, needing the loo. All this means incontinence can have a major impact on your self-esteem, mood, energy levels and relationships.

It can take a while to work out what will help you, and meanwhile, you may feel very isolated and frustrated. But there are solutions, and there is support out there. The tips here will give you some ideas about how to manage, feel more confident and get on with enjoying life.

Manage daily life

  • cut down on alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol and caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee and cola can make your kidneys produce more urine and irritate your bladder, making you need to pee more
  • keep a cleanup kit with you. Even if you don’t need it, having spare clothing, pads, wet wipes and disposable bags with you can give you peace of mind
  • know your loos. This can help reduce stress about going out, so you can relax and enjoy yourself. If you’re in the UK, you may find this toilet map helpful
  • try bladder training exercises. These can help improve your bladder control so you need to pee less often at night
  • consider access cards and keys. A Just Can’t Wait toilet card states you have a medical condition and need quick access to toilets - you can download it as an app on your phone. You can also buy for a RADAR key which will give you access to disabled toilets in places like stations and shopping centres
  • change your mindset. It’s natural to worry about what others might think but ask yourself what you’d say to a friend in your position. Remember, urinary incontinence is really common so it’s likely you have friends who also experience it
  • open up. Sharing the issue with a few people close to you can help you feel less isolated - and help them understand you may need a toilet urgently when you’re out. You could also think about talking to your boss or HR manager if it would help you in the workplace

Deal with disrupted sleep

  • drink less before bed. If you often need to pee at night, try to reduce your fluid intake a few hours before bed - but stay hydrated during the day
  • avoid alcohol and caffeine. As above, these can make you need to pee more, including during the night, so avoiding these during the day and especially at night, may reduce sleep disruption
  • invest in products as back-up. Washable mattress covers and pads absorb leaks and protect your bedding. They stay dry to the touch so you can sleep more soundly. You can also wear pads or reusable or washable pull up pants to help keep you dry

Couple on a walk

Make it easier on your relationship

talk to your partner. This may feel scary, especially if your relationship is new, but if they care about you, it’s likely they’ll be understanding. In fact, sharing problems can often bring you closer. If you have a more serious incontinence issue and have to use a catheter, for example, pick a time to talk to a new partner before you get intimate

If you’re not sure how go about starting this conversation, it might help to:

  • when you feel ready, choose a time you usually find it easy to chat without being disturbed, like over lunch or on a weekend walk
  • before talking, think about the things you want to get across. Make notes if you’re worried about forgetting something
  • tell your partner that you don’t want incontinence to get in the way of your relationship and love life so you’re sharing the issue so you can work around it together
  • say how you’re feeling about sharing this with them. It’s worth mentioning if you’re feeling a bit nervous or embarrassed and that what you’re about to tell them might not come out perfectly but you want to share it with them

If you’re worried about peeing during sex

  • get ready. Before sex, empty your bladder to reduce the chance of leaks, and have a quick wash if you’re worried about any smell
  • ease your mind. Remember, sex is messy anyway, full of moments that can make us laugh or take us by surprise, from sounds to fluids, so consider what’s the worst that could happen and how you’d deal with it if it did to free up your mind from worrying
  • use mattress pads or an old towel. This can keep you feeling safer in case of leaks when you’re sharing a bed or being intimate with your partner

Travel with confidence

As well as using some of the tips above like avoiding caffeine and alcohol and doing bladder training exercises, these tips may help make travelling more manageable:

  • plan ahead. Make sure you know where your nearest toilets will be on each stage of your journey, and take a RADAR key (UK only) or Euro Key if travelling within Europe and Just Can’t wait toilet card with you
  • book seats near toilets. If you’re travelling by plane or train, reserving a seat near the toilets can offer peace of mind
  • spread products between bags. In case of any delays or lost luggage incidents, spread products between bags and if you’re flying, always keep some in your hand luggage

When to see a doctor

Seek support from your doctor straight away if your incontinence is affecting your confidence and quality of life, or if you’ve been trying self-care techniques but incontinence isn’t improving.

It’s best to speak to your doctor urgently if the incontinence has started suddenly, you have back pain or you have other urinary symptoms like burning when you pee or blood in your urine.

You can also use the Healthily Smart Symptom Checker if you’re worried about any of your symptoms.

Your health questions answered

Where can I find support?

There are lots of places where you can find information and support for incontinence and also connect with others who are in the same boat as you. Charities and support networks include:

Bladder and Bowel Community
Support in Incontinence
Bladder Health UK
Bladder and Bowel UK
Age Co
Disability Rights UK

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