Ever experience a sudden, urgent feeling to wee that’s so overwhelming it takes every ounce of self-control to prevent wet underwear? That’s urge incontinence. And it can happen to anyone – usually due to an irritated or overactive bladder.

As a woman, you’re unfortunately more likely to experience urge incontinence than the average man. You can take refuge in the fact that it’s very common (second only to stress incontinence) and often very treatable.

Urge incontinence happens when your bladder ignores signals from your brain and instead just pushes out wee whenever it likes. This can mean unwanted wetness in the bedroom, at work, or anywhere else that isn’t the bathroom.

What happens when your bladder doesn’t do as it’s told?

Normally, your bladder stays relaxed until it’s about half-full, at which point it communicates with your brain to send signals that say it’s time to go to the toilet. But much like overflow incontinence, someone who experiences urge incontinence has a bladder that does not act normally.

During urge incontinence, the brain and bladder tend to get their wires crossed. The bladder may think it is full when it’s not, or the brain may think it’s time to go to the loo when it’s not. So your bladder contracts to try empty itself – resulting in any urine inside being suddenly expelled.

The difficult part of urge incontinence is that it can develop with or without any apparent medical reason. Sometimes there’s an infection present like or UTI, or an internal problem like bladder stones.

Your doctor can diagnose you – but sometimes urge incontinence can be purely neurological, meaning your brain and/or nerves are playing up. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are sick, but it is quite a mystery to many medical professionals.

What causes urge incontinence?

When you are healthy in every other way, the cause of your urge incontinence may remain unknown and improve over time. However, there are several neurological diseases that can affect bladder performance. Spinal damage can also have an effect.

More commonly, your urge incontinence will be due to a common infection or physical problem. Your urge incontinence may be caused by:

  • UTIs (urinary tract infections)
  • Bladder stones
  • Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis
  • Colorectal and pelvic conditions such as constipation or an enlarged prostate (in men)
  • Spinal cord damage

As with any medical condition, don’t be tempted to self-diagnose or simply hope it goes away. It’s normal to be a little embarrassed about the subject of incontinence, but your doctor is the best person to confide in – not only are they equipped to help you, they’re also bound by doctor/patient confidentiality.

If your doctor can’t find anything seriously wrong, your urge incontinence may be called an overactive bladder or unstable bladder. Regardless of the cause your doctor can explain the excellent treatment options that are out there and discuss which one is good for you.

Treating and dealing with urge incontinence

Once the source of your urge incontinence has been diagnosed, your doctor will aim to treat this underlying condition. Over time, treatment will help you control your bladder and eventually eliminate any urge incontinence. While this is happening, you may want to figure out a strategy for dealing with unexpected leaks.

Luckily you don’t need to reorganise your entire life around urge incontinence – it can be easily managed with specially designed liners and pads. Poise products have varying degrees of absorption that are appropriate for even the most unexpected leaks. They’re slimline and fit neatly underneath your underwear – giving you physical and mental freedom.

If you’re one the many people who are experiencing urge incontinence without any accompanying medical condition, there are still options out there for you.

Bladder Training

Bladder training is a great way to whip your bladder back into shape, in a manner of speaking. It’s a commonly used technique that strengthens the bladder and increases elasticity. It works like any good gym routine – by pushing yourself little by little on a consistent basis.

To do it, simply hold on for an extra few minutes next time you feel the urge to wee. The idea is to hold on a little longer each time you need to go – so you might start with 5 minutes extra, then go to 10 minutes extra, 15, 20, so on and so forth. You might want to do your first few attempts while sitting on the loo… just in case.

The idea is to increase the amount of time between bathroom visits. The longer you can hold on, the more control you have, and the greater your bladder’s capacity will become. It might seem impossible to get to the average rate of urination (once every 3-4 hours), but don’t worry, you’ll get there!

Pelvic Floor Exercises

Pelvic floor exercises are amazing exercises you can do at home to strengthen the muscles and organs in your pelvic region. They can help with overactive bladders by strengthening the supportive tissue around your bladder.

The beauty of these special exercises is that you can do them anywhere. Go for it at work, lying in bed, in the shower, or anywhere you want, really. A strong, tight pelvic floor also improves the sensation of sex… so if you’re not doing them already, your excuses are running out.

If you’re having trouble finding your pelvic floor, there are a few ways to figure it out. Doing them lying down is easiest, so lay back, and keep your legs, stomach and buttocks relaxed. You won’t be using them.

Try to tighten your pelvic floor by tensing the muscles at the bottom of your pelvis, between your legs. It’s the same feeling as stopping a wee early, or holding back gas. You should feel the area just below your vagina pull upwards towards your body – that’s it!

A session of pelvic floor exercises is usually 10 slow squeezes and 10 fast squeezes. If you can’t do that, just do as many as you can. Try to do this 5 times a day and you will improve your pelvic floor in no time.

Lifestyle Changes

There are plenty of changes you can make to your day-to-day lifestyle that lessen the severity of urge incontinence.

You can try to:

  • Make the route to your toilet as easy and simple as possible
  • Avoid caffeine as much as possible. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it will make you pee more. It can also irritate your bladder.
  • Limit or eliminate alcohol – alcohol consumption is linked increased urge incontinence.
  • Reduce or cut out foods that irritate your bladder such as fizzy drinks, citrus fruits, citrus juices and spicy foods.
  • Go to the toilet only when you really need to. If you go too often your bladder may become used to holding less and less urine.
  • Make a special effort to keep fit, trim and eat a healthy diet. Excess weight puts pressure on the bladder and pelvic floor, causing problems.

Although this might seem counter-intuitive, don’t cut down on the amount of liquid you drink. Urge incontinence has almost nothing to do with the amount of urine in your bladder. Cutting back on liquids causes your urine may become concentrated, and concentrated urine can irritate your bladder.

There are treatments for serious cases of urge incontinence

If there is a serious underlying cause to urge incontinence, there are medical treatments available. Doctors will recommend medication or surgery, depending on what the root cause of the incontinence is.

Medication comes into play in a few different cases of urge incontinence – though is often accompanied by other treatments. Only a doctor should prescribe medicines to combat urge incontinence – self-diagnosis can get you into more trouble than it’s worth.

There are a few interesting medicines available that you might be recommended – one is a type of medicine called an antimuscarinic. Antimuscarinics block nerve impulses, effectively stopping mismatched signals firing off between your brain and bladder. This makes them a match made in heaven for urge incontinence relief. The other is a classic: antibiotics. Antibiotics come in handy when you need to combat UTIs or bladder infections – some of the most common causes of urge incontinence.

In the right circumstances, surgery is also an effective treatment for treating urge incontinence. Surgeons can increase the size of your bladder or reduce its activity with some highly-specialised procedures. Surgery is always a last resort option after everything else has failed.

How common is urge incontinence?

The experts put the number of people worldwide suffering from urge incontinence somewhere between 50 and 100 million. This can be a comforting fact if you suffer unexpected leaks – you’re going through a normal human experience that millions of other people live with and manage on a daily basis.

With the right approach, and some discreet Poise products handy, you can easily manage your urge incontinence worries. And between your friends, family and doctor, there is help available, and you aren’t alone.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from a qualified health care professional with any questions regarding your concerns.