Bladder leaks are a frustrating fact of life for so many of us. So why is it so easy to believe all of the myths out there about them?
I know that when I’ve got something going on with my body, it’s easy to create a story to help me deal with it. I spiral down the WebMD rabbit hole or scroll through the endless number of pop-science articles looking for answers. Hours pass. The next thing I know, I’m self-diagnosing and concocting an explanation using some pretty unreliable sources. I end up more confused than when I was just guessing. Sound familiar?
Truth be told, letting myths determine how we deal with our bodies is never a good idea. It’s time to relieve some common myths about incontinence once and for all. Read on to get the facts so you can deal with future leaks like a pro.
Myth #1: Bladder leaks are super rare.
If you think you’re the only one who leaks, think again. Bladder leaks are super common, especially among women. Around 45% of women ages 40-60 experience leaks and 1 in 3 women experience leaks overall. While men can also get bladder leaks, they’re more common in women due to the number of reproductive events that occur throughout our lives like pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause.
Myth #2: Only ladies of a certain age get bladder leaks.
Actually, women of all ages get bladder leaks. What causes them? Medications. Pelvic floor injuries. Exercising. Coughing. Laughing. Sneezing. Infections. Neurological damage. Surgery. The list goes on… That said, the number of women who experience leaks does increase with age because of hormonal changes during menopause. During menopause, women’s bodies produce less estrogen which weakens the pelvic floor and can cause urge incontinence or overactive bladder. But drips and dribbles don’t only happen to women who’ve experienced menopause. They can happen to anyone at any age from the young and spry to the old and wise.
Myth #3: Drinking less water will fix urinary issues.
Ehh…not exactly. If you get bladder leaks, it’s actually really important to stay hydrated. Dehydration concentrates your urine, which can irritate your bladder, trigger urges, and cause UTIs. In other words, not drinking enough can lead to more of exactly what you’re trying to avoid. In general, doctors recommend drinking water when you’re thirsty, if your lips are dry, or if you’re feeling tired or dehydrated. If you find yourself waking up a lot in the middle of the night, try shifting your water intake to earlier in the day so you can catch your zzz’s uninterrupted. You can also try keeping a bladder diary to identify foods and liquids that may be leak triggers. You might be surprised to find that certain things in your diet (chocolate, anyone?) are affecting your bathroom schedule.
Myth #4: You can use feminine hygiene products like tampons or maxi pads to deal with urinary leaks.
Nope. As in, really, really, definitely not. Urine and blood are two very different liquids that absorb at different rates. Bladder leak products are built to absorb urine, which typically flows faster than menstrual blood. They are also designed to eliminate the odor of urine and neutralize its acidity which can help reduce skin rashes and other discomfort caused by leaks. You may be tempted to purchase menstrual products to deal with urine leaks, but incontinence products will be more effective for bladder leaks. Just say “no” to those pantyliners already under your sink.
Myth #5: Fit and healthy women don’t get leaks.
Exercise junkies beware, don’t believe this myth. Women of all shapes and sizes get bladder leaks. It’s true that weight gain, obesity, and being overweight play a role in bladder leaks for some women. Extra weight can put a lot of pressure on the pelvic floor and weaken it. While staying in shape is great for your overall health, exercise is actually one of the most common triggers for leaks. All the muscle strains, contractions, and physical exertion that happen during your favorite workout class put a lot of pressure on the pelvic floor and may surprise you with a leak.
Myth #6: Only women who’ve had kids experience bladder leaks.
While it’s true that major reproductive events like pregnancy and childbirth can contribute to bladder leaks, not all women who’ve had kids get them. There is no single prerequisite or life event that causes spritz and sprinkles. Urine leaks happen for a variety of reasons. Habits. Diet. Lifestyle. Life events. Experiences. The causes are different for each of us.
Myth #7: Doing Kegels will completely fix the problem.
Kegels are one of the best at home treatments for bladder leaks because they can help you strengthen your pelvic floor. They are often a great first step in treating leaks for many women. But they’re rarely the silver bullet that many women hope they will be. A combination of Kegels, other pelvic floor exercises, and lifestyle changes, like adjusting diet, is usually the best way to minimize leaks. Also, Kegels are not for everyone. Some women experience leaks due to hypertonic muscles, which means the muscles in their pelvic floor are too tight. These women might find that kegels increase the number of leaks they have — and you definitely wouldn’t want that. That’s why it is important to figure out what’s causing your leaks in the first place.
Myth #8: You should pee as soon as you have the urge to go.
If you are going every time you have an urge, you’re training your body that it’s okay for urges to dictate your bathroom schedule. Since you don’t always have access to a toilet, training your body and mind to work together without being ruled by urges could help you prevent future leaks. One of the most common ways to do this is with bladder training. Bladder training means that you keep a set schedule for your bathroom trips. Showing leaks who’s boss through bladder training works best for women with urge incontinence and is less effective for women with stress incontinence.
Myth #9: Just pee, even if you don’t have to go.
How many times did your mom tell you to “just go” even when you didn’t have to? Turns out mom may not have known best on this one because doing this can break down the link between your brain and bladder. As a result, your body gets worse at deciding when you actually need to go. Having easy access to a toilet can sometimes be a relief, but just because there’s one close by doesn’t mean you should use it. It’s never a good idea to force yourself to pee when you don’t really have to go. It can put undue stress on the pelvic floor muscles and even cause pelvic prolapse which may make leaks even worse. And no one wants that.
Myth #10 : Pelvic floor issues are something you have to deal with alone.
Our bathroom habits often feel like a private matter but we all need support now and then. While many people opt to go it alone when dealing with bladder leaks, a doctor (like urologist or urogynecologist) can help you find ways to deal with your leaks. Pelvic floor therapists can also guide you through different pelvic floor exercises and offer manual pelvic floor therapy to help realign and strengthen the muscles in your pelvis so they optimally function.
We hope that we’ve dispelled some of the myths out there about bladder leaks. Want more? Find out what kind of bladder leaks you have with this quiz in 2 minutes or less.
What myths did you used to believe about your leaks? Tell us in the comments. Or, ready to tell your bladder who’s boss? Get pads and underwear for leaky laughs and dribble dilemmas delivered straight to your door from Lily Bird.