Experts estimate that about half of all women have dealt with embarrassing bladder problems at least one time in their life. And men aren't excluded from the problem, either. Not being able to "hold it" and experiencing sudden urine leaks is all too common. But when does an occasional issue become a big enough reason to seek treatment?
There are no rules when it comes to bladder problems. Typically, doctors recommend treatment when symptoms become too bothersome. How do you know when you've reached that point? If you've lived with overactive bladder symptoms for awhile, you may not realize how much you've adapted your life and habits around the problem.
Here are four lifestyle "red flags" that signal it may be time to seek treatment:
Red flag: Your social life has diminished.
People who have an overactive bladder suffer not only physical effects, but social ones, as well. Fear of having an accident or anxiety about finding a bathroom can take its toll. Many people who have an overactive bladder begin avoiding social situations. And that's a big price to pay.
Seeking treatment can allow you to regain your social life by helping to reduce symptoms. It can also teach you how to modify your lifestyle to better control the problem. For example, avoiding foods and beverages that irritate the bladder can help make a lunch out with friends more relaxing. And bladder retraining—training the bladder to hold urine for longer periods of time—can give you confidence to sit through a movie again.
Red flag: You're losing sleep.
If you're getting up two or more times at night to urinate or have to "go" eight or more times in a 24-hour period, it may be a sign that you need help for bladder problems.
Spending too much time in the bathroom can cost you precious sleep. It can also occupy time better spent on more enjoyable activities. Pay attention to how often you visit the facilities. Calculating this time can actually awaken you to the seriousness of the problem.
Red flag: You make clothing choices based primarily on your bladder problem.
Perhaps you wear only dark or loose-fitting clothing to conceal wetness. Or maybe you always stash extra clothes in your bag in case of an accident. Although these can be effective ways to cope with an overactive bladder, they may signal an ongoing problem.
Bladder problems are common, but they aren't normal. If you feel like you're constantly worried about a leak, it may be time to find relief. Not only can treatment reduce symptoms, it can lift the emotional weight of having to deal with the problem. Free yourself to think about something else. (And wear what you want!)
Red Flag: Traveling—whether flying across the country or driving across town—makes you break out in a sweat.
Many people with bladder problems avoid car trips or other excursions because a bathroom isn't always readily available. If bladder issues are causing you to change your lifestyle or stick too close to home, it's time to seek relief.
Urge incontinence, the strong, sudden need to urinate, can make for nervous travel. But there are many proven treatments to help reduce those urges. These include medications, exercises, behavior modification, biofeedback, and even surgery.
How to Take Control
If you relate a little too well to any of these red flags, there is hope. According to the National Association for Continence, a whopping 80 percent of those affected by urinary incontinence can be cured or improved. The first step is talking with your doctor.
It's not easy discussing an embarrassing issue like overactive bladder. But as one of an estimated 25 million Americans who are experiencing incontinence problems, you are not alone. Start with your primary care doctor. If you don't get the help you need, keep looking until you do. Many clinicians specialize in helping people overcome this problem. It's worth the effort. With a clear diagnosis, your doctor can provide you with the most effective treatment options.