Bladder training is a way of learning to manage urinary incontinence. It is generally used for stress incontinence, urge incontinence or a combination of the 2 types (mixed incontinence). Stress incontinence is when urine leaks because of sudden pressure on your lower stomach muscles, such as when you cough, laugh, lift something or exercise. Urge incontinence is when the need to urinate comes on so fast that you can’t get to a toilet in time. Some bladder training techniques are explained below.
How can bladder training help?
Bladder training can help in the following ways:
- Lengthen the amount of time between bathroom trips.
- Increase the amount of urine your bladder can hold.
- Improve your control over the urge to urinate.
Where do I start?
Ask your doctor about starting a bladder training program. He or she may ask you to keep a diary to record how much and how often you urinate. This information will help your doctor create a plan that’s right for you.
Three bladder training methods are listed below. Your doctor may recommend 1 or more of these methods to help control your incontinence.
- Kegel exercises: These are exercises that help strengthen the muscles you use to stop the flow of urine. For more information, see “Kegel Exercises for Your Pelvic Muscles.”
- Delay urination: Some people who have urge incontinence can learn to put off urination when they feel the urge. You start by trying to hold your urine for 5 minutes every time you feel an urge to urinate. When it’s easy to wait 5 minutes, you try to increase the time to 10 minutes until you’re urinating every 3 to 4 hours. When you feel the urge to urinate before your time is up, you can try relaxation techniques. Breathe slowly and deeply. Concentrate on your breathing until the urge goes away. Kegel exercises may also help control urges.
- Scheduled bathroom trips: Some people control their incontinence by going to the bathroom on a schedule. This means that you go to the bathroom at set times, whether you feel the urge or not. For example, you might start by going to the bathroom every hour. Then gradually you increase the time until you find a schedule that works for you.
Keep in mind that bladder training can take 3 to 12 weeks. During your training program, your doctor may have you keep track of the number of urine leaks you have each day. This will help you and your doctor see if bladder training is helping. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have immediate results or if you still experience some incontinence.
What else can I do?
You may find it helpful to make some changes in your diet. Alcohol, caffeine, foods high in acid (such as tomato or grapefruit) and spicy foods can irritate your bladder. Talk to your doctor if you think your diet may contribute to your incontinence.
Some people find that limiting how much they drink before bedtime helps reduce nighttime incontinence.
Losing weight if you are overweight can also help reduce incontinence.
Are there other ways to treat incontinence?
Yes. Medicines or medical devices can treat some types of urinary incontinence. In some cases, surgery may be an option. Treatment depends on what type of urinary incontinence you have and what is causing it.
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.