When you have urinary incontinence

You have urinary incontinence. This is when you are not able to keep urine from leaking from your urethra, the tube that carries urine out of your body from your bladder. Urinary incontinence may occur as your age or after a surgery or childbirth. There are many things you can do to help keep urinary incontinence from affecting your daily life.

See also:

Skin Care

You may need to take special care of the skin around your urethra. These things may help.

Clean the area around your urethra right after urinating. This will help keep the skin from getting irritated. It will also help keep infection away. Ask your doctor or nurse about special skin cleaners for people who have urinary incontinence.

  • Using them often will not cause irritation or dryness.
  • Most do not have to be rinsed off. You just wipe the area with a cloth.

When bathing, use warm water and wash gently. Scrubbing too hard can hurt the skin. After bathing, use a moisturizer and a barrier cream.

  • Barrier creams keep water and urine away from your skin.
  • Some barrier creams are petroleum jelly, zinc oxide, cocoa butter, kaolin, lanolin, and paraffin.

Deodorizing tablets may help with any odor. Ask your doctor or nurse if they might be right for you.

If your mattress becomes wet:

  • Use a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water to clean the mattress.
  • Once the mattress has dried, rub baking soda into the stain, and then vacuum the baking powder off.

You can also use water-resistant sheets to keep urine from soaking into your mattress.


Eat healthy foods and exercise regularly. Try to lose weight if you are overweight. Being too heavy will weaken the muscles that help you stop urinating.

Drink plenty of water:

  • Drinking enough water will help keep odors away.
  • Drinking more water may even help reduce leakage.

Do not drink anything 2 to 4 hours before going to bed. Be sure to empty your bladder before going to bed to help prevent urine leakage during the night.

Avoid foods and beverages that can make urine leakage worse. These include:

  • Caffeine (coffee, tea, some sodas)
  • Carbonated drinks, such as soda and sparkling water
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Citrus fruits and juices (lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit)
  • Tomatoes and tomato-based foods and sauces
  • Spicy foods
  • Chocolate
  • Sugars and honey
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Milk and milk products

Eat more fiber in your diet, or take fiber supplements to prevent constipation.

Tips when you exercise:

  • Do not drink too much before you exercise.
  • Urinate right before you exercise.
  • Try wearing pads to absorb leakage or urethral inserts to block the flow.

Controlling the Need to Urinate

Some activities may increase leakage for some people. NOT doing these things may help:

  • Coughing, sneezing, and straining, and other actions that put extra pressure on the pelvic muscles. If you have a cold or lung problems that make you cough or sneeze, get treatment for it.
  • ·Very heavy lifting.

Ask your doctor or nurse about things you can do to ignore urges to pass urine. After a few weeks, you should leak urine less often.

Train your bladder to wait a longer time between trips to the toilet.

  • Start by trying to hold off for 10 minutes. Slowly increase this waiting time to 20 minutes.
  • Learn to relax and breathe slowly. Or do something that takes your mind off your need to urinate.
  • The goal is to learn to hold the urine up to 4 hours.

Urinate at set times -- even if you do not feel the urge. Schedule yourself for every 2 to 4 hours.

Empty your bladder all the way. After you go once, go again a few minutes later.

Ask your doctor about drugs that may help.


Goode PS, Gurgio KL, Richter HE, Markland AD. Incontinence in older women. JAMA. 2010;303(21):2172-2181.

Shamliyan TA, Kane RL, Wyman J, Wilt TJ. Systematic review: randomized, controlled trials of nonsurgical treatments for urinary incontinence in women. Ann Intern Med. 2008 Mar 18;148(6):459-73. Epub 2008 Feb 11.

Shamilyan TA, Wyman JF, Ping R, Wilt TJ, Kane RL. Male urinary incontinence: Prevelance, risk factors, and preventive intervetions. Rev Urol. 2009 Summer; 11(3): 145–165.

Update Date: 10/11/2012

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; and Louis S. Liou, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Urology, Department of Surgery, Boston University School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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