Grey hair. Wrinkles. Weight gain. Poor eyesight. Fatigue. These are all things I expected as I headed into the middle age. I often say that I will feel forever 27, but I also realize that aging is a fact of life that will leave a mark on my body. But there is one condition, however, that has truly snuck up on me
As I begin my 41st year, my body is constantly reminding me that my external number is vastly different than my internal one. So I strategically dye the shimmery-gray hairs that seem to be increasing at a rapid rate, I watch my diet, and I pop on my CVS, +2.5 reading glasses to help me see the ever-shrinking 12-point font on my computer. But when I started to experience bladder incontinence, something I never heard anyone discuss, I didn't know what to do.
Sure, I had heard the term before, but I associated it with 80-year-old women in nursing homes. Imagine my surprise when at 37-years-old, I found myself running to the bathroom with no time to spare. At first, I blamed it on my beverage intake, and I did everything in my power to limit myself. But the condition remained. It was as if my mind was sending the “it’s time to go” signal way too late, and I was living with anxiety because of it.
It was highest at work. Did my co-workers see me literally running to the bathroom after my morning coffee? Did they think I was rude when I got up mid-meeting because I had to go? For a long time, I was too embarrassed to talk about it, too. I was too young, I thought.
As it turns out, I am not too young, and I am certainly not alone. A survey conducted by Cora, a women's product company and lifestyle site, found that 41 percent of women in their thirties experience bladder leaks at least once a week or more. The same survey confirmed that most women are not talking about this issue, either. “89 percent of women are more likely to share relationship issues, body image fears and taboo lifestyle habits like drinking or drug use than talk about bladder leakage,” it read.
Mica Phillips, the Director of Urology for the Durable Medical Equipment Provider AeroFlow Healthcare confirms that “while incontinence is generally thought of as a pediatric or geriatric condition, it affects a multitude of middle-aged adults as well, due to a variety of reasons such as giving birth, getting into accidents that can impact nerves/spine, or weakening pelvic muscles.”
I felt reassured after learning this, but reassurance also came from finding out there are things I could do about it. If you suffer from lack of bladder control, here are the things you need to know.
Warning Signs/Early Symptoms
According to Phillips, the first symptoms of bladder incontinence can include, “experiencing a little urinary leakage when laughing, sneezing, or exercise. You may also suddenly have an intense urge [to go] with only a few seconds to make it to the restroom, or [you may have] to use the restroom more frequently. You may wake up multiple times during the night to relieve your bladder or have difficulty producing large amounts of urine to fully empty the bladder.” You may have an increased risk of developing incontinence if a close family member has the condition. Childbirth, excess weight and some neurological conditions can also make you more susceptible.
Consult a Doctor
Do not delay in consulting a doctor if you notice any of the above symptoms. “Incontinence could indicate a more serious underlying condition such as diabetes, Urinary Tract Infections, pelvic cancers and more," says Phillips. "The sooner you visit your doctor the better.” Women can consult their PCP or gynecologist, who can refer them to a urologist if needed. The most important thing, however, is to seek treatment sooner rather than later. Don’t let embarrassment stop you.
Phillips stresses that “incontinence doesn’t have to rule [women’s] lives.” In some cases, incontinence can be treated, and in those in cannot, it can still be managed. “Either way, there are a variety of ways to reduce symptoms.” Kegel exercises are a great way re-strengthen your pelvis muscles and your doctor can help you start on a daily regimen. Certain food and beverages can trigger incontinence and should be avoided. These include caffeine, spicy food, alcohol and refined sugars. Training can also help: The bladder is a muscle, and thus, can be trained by “increasing the time spent between bathroom breaks.”
Despite popular belief, adult diapers are not the only option. A variety of incontinence products on the market are geared towards younger women. Cora’s bladder liners are “designed by women in the know… made to eliminate the anxiety and fear that goes along with experiencing light bladder leaks.” They even sell an adorable black clutch that conveniently holds the liners and conceals them in a style.
Ruby Love also sells products aimed at those with bladder incontinence. Mary Barnes, a stay at home mom in Maine, discovered Ruby Love, whose clothing products have built-coverage, when she scoured the internet looking for alternatives to wearing pads regularly. “I still feel like me, and a woman, with the style underwear that I’m used to wearing, like the Bikini underwear. My husband didn’t even notice!” Ruby Love offers a variety of items including underwear, swimwear, activewear and loungewear with protective, absorbent features.
Phillips encourages women to consult their health insurance company to see if they cover part or all of the costs of your incontinence products. “This way, no matter how long your treatment plan lasts, you can relieve the financial stress of having to purchase incontinence products.”
Talk About It
I wouldn’t have been able to collect any of this information, if I hadn’t first admitted this was a problem. When I learned I was not alone, I realized there really is nothing to be embarrassed. Phillips shares, “Incontinence is incredibly common. Over 25 million American adults are struggling with some form of urinary incontinence. The sooner you talk about it with a healthcare professional, the sooner you can regain control of your bladder.”