We don’t often fully appreciate our healthy bladder function until we notice a change. When you're no longer 100% in control of urination you may feel somewhat distressed, embarrassed, oranxious. Leaks, accidents, and the fear and shame around such incidents can disrupt your daily activities and can also affect confidence, particularly in social and intimate settings. But incontinence and bladder health is manageable, and should not be something which affects your life negatively. To overcome this, it is important to start conversations about your health problems and feelings. If you’re living with bladder function abnormalities, you need to face your concerns head on, and start learning to talk about incontinence.
Understanding incontinence and poor bladder health
Nervous system conditions like multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury can lead to what is known as neurogenic lower urinary tract dysfunction, or a neurogenic bladder1. The urinary bladder is a hollow bag, responsible for storing urine and voiding several times throughout the day.1When this normal process is disrupted as a result of a medical condition, bladder health is affected, and incontinence may follow.
Urinary incontinence is common, particularly among women, and there are several types of it2. Stress incontinence is one that several of your female friends may have experienced, which occurs due to suboptimal pelvic floor strength and results in leakage of urine when one laughs or coughs2. Nerve damage and nervous system disorders may lead to urge incontinence or overflow-incontinence2. Urge incontinence (also called an overactive bladder or detrusor overactivity) occurs when there is increased bladder activity and an urgent and frequent need to go to the loo2. In contrast, overflow incontinence, where the bladder does not contract appropriately, results in urine that dribbles out of a full bladder2. It’s important to note that more than one type of incontinence may be at play when it comes to your condition, and therefore it’s important that you investigate the causes of your case specifically.
Overcoming your bladder problems and regaining confidence
Regardless of the type of incontinence, the most common feature is loss of bladder control,accompanied by urine leaks. Nobody wants to soil their underwear, and the fear of an accident and the associated social stigma can cause you to feel uneasy.
How do you get over this anxiety? The first step is to accept that your bladder is not functioning normally, expect accidents, and be prepared for how you will react and what needs to be done. Small leaks are fairly easy to clean up, while larger ones should prompt you or your carer to change your underwear and your clothing. With time you will become familiar with how your bladder now works, and your daily routine should be adjusted accordingly. If you are self-catheterising intermittently, your catheterisation practices should be designed to minimise leaks and accidents, so following the prescribed regimen can help to prevent urinary incontinence3. In addition, for extra confidence when venturing out you may want to get into the habit of taking some pantyliners, a change of underwear, and a change of clothes.
Feeling comfortable and confident is essential for a fulfilling and happy sex life: something everyone deserves. To reduce any unnecessary worries you may feel more comfortable lining the bed before sharing intimate moments with your partner. Take things slow at first, with the expectation that there may be some leaks or spillages. This prior acceptance will allow both you and your partner to fully relax and focus on each other.
If you are able to perform Kegel exercises, be sure to incorporate these into your routine to strengthen the pelvic floor and prevent further loss of continence1. While accidents are expected, pay attention to increased leaking or acute changes in bladder function, as these may also be the first signs of a urinary tract infection. Provided that you are adhering to your bladder care routine and practicing good hygiene, the smell of a urinary leak should not be offensive. But if you notice your urine does have an odour, visit your local doctor to check for signs of infection1.
Talking to your partner, close friends, or family members about your concerns is of great value in regaining confidence in terms of bladder function. You will quickly discover that they don’t think any less of you, and that any perceptions of judgment or shame are largely exaggerated in your own mind. Open discussions with your attending healthcare professionals is also encouraged, as many problems can be solved through simple preventative measures and medical advice. Most importantly, get vocal. Sometimes a good listener makes a world of difference, even if you don’t come up with any solutions. Incontinence and bladder dysfunction are very real issues, and you should not hesitate to have these conversations or feel that they are anything to be ashamed of. Our trained professional nurses are more than happy to chat about any issues you may be having, and are on hand to support you in resuming a happy and fulfilled life, so get in touch.
Our trained professional nurses are more than happy to chat about any issues you may be having, and are on hand to support you in resuming a happy and fulfilled life, so get in touch. Additionally, if you want to learn more about regaining confidence, head over to our Learn section.
1. Pannek J, Blok B, Castro Diaz D, Del Popoplo G, Kramer G, et al. EAU guidelines on neurogenic lower urinary tract dysfunction. European Association of Urology, 2011 update.
2. WebMD. Incontinence & Overactive Bladder Health Center. Accessed 14 June 2016 from http://www.webmd.com/urinaryincontinenceoab/typesofurinaryincontinence
3. Bennett E. Intermittent selfcatheterisation and the female patient. Nurs Stand. 2002 Oct 30Nov 5;17(7):3742.