If this sounds like you, you may have an overactive bladder, says Karyn Eilber, MD, an associate professor of urology and obstetrics and gynecology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. According to Cedars-Sinai, one in 11 people deal with overactive bladders, and it's something that people who've given birth might experience more frequently.
If you have an overactive bladder, you might feel a sudden urge to pee (one that's hard to control), you could have leakage or accidents shortly after you get the urge, or you might find that you're peeing more than eight times each day, the Mayo Clinic explains. (And yes, getting up to use the bathroom more than two times in the middle of the night is also a sign.) "Some people with overactive bladder have a sensitive bladder, so they feel like they want to urinate all the time," Dr. Eilber says. "Even if there isn’t much in their bladder.”
Though this is inconvenient and might even feel a bit embarrassing, try to let go of the shame. Not only is it a common condition, but there are techniques you can use to deal with an overactive bladder, Dr. Eilber says. Essentially, as your bladder fills, your body sends signals to your brain that it's time for you to pee, even if there isn't much liquid to release. So the key to managing the urge lies in helping your brain and bladder communicate more effectively. "Bladder training is important to reset the stretch receptors of the bladder," Dr. Eilber says. "Kind of like gradually stretching in yoga to do splits."
There are a few tried-and-true techniques to help an overactive bladder, but as you experiment with them and try to assess your triggers, a new question might emerge: how do you keep track of what's working? Enter—the bladder journal.
There are a few techniques to help with bladder training
Since your bladder is sending urgent signals to your brain, part of training your bladder involves getting on a schedule. “The first step is to empty your bladder as soon as you get up in the morning," says Aleece Fosnight, medical advisor at Aeroflow Urology, a specialist in men and women's urological care and sexual health. "Then, throughout the day, follow a schedule discussed with your healthcare provider. Go to the bathroom at specific times, increasing by increments,” she says. Fosnight notes this schedule "is only to be followed during the day, where at night, you should only wake up to go if you need to."
If you find yourself feeling the urge to pee before your designated time, there are things you can do to temper the urge. Kegel exercises, for instance, are when you tighten and hold your pelvic muscles to strengthen the pelvic floor. There are also quick flicks, which are basically Kegels but at a quicker capacity, Fosnight says. You can try this when you get that “gotta go” feeling.
It's also important that you try to be kind to yourself as the urge strikes, Fosnight says. "If you feel the need to urinate before your next scheduled time, suppression or relaxation techniques can help. For example, deep breathing to relax your muscles." She says, "After accomplishing your goal, it’s suggested to increase the time between emptying your bladder by 15-minute intervals. From there, increase these intervals each week until you can achieve a voiding interval of three to four hours.”
In addition to following a schedule, pay attention to your diet, as certain foods can irritate an overactive bladder, the Cleveland Clinic says. Those triggers can include caffeine, spicy or acidic foods and beverages, and carbonated drinks, and beverages with artificial sweeteners, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Eliminating these triggers (or at the very least noticing them) can help you manage your bladder.
Between your schedule, triggers, exercises, and relaxation techniques, there's likely a lot of information floating around in your mind. And, although bladder training techniques are effective over time, you likely won't see immediate results. You can expect to see changes in about six to 12 weeks, Fosnight says. Do you why a bladder journal makes sense?
You should consider keeping a bladder journal
It may sound like a bladder journal requires you to write about how you're feeling, but that's not exactly what this entails. In fact, Fosnigt says it's necessary. "Keeping a bladder journal can help you understand your triggers," she explains. "[It] will speed up the success of the bladder training process."
But why does journaling speed things up? Well, it helps you figure out (and remember) what foods or drinks to avoid, what times are more active, which relaxation techniques and exercises are most helpful, and anything else that you feel might be relevant. Sure, you can also journal about your emotions—they might help you recognize and manage psychological triggers—but the idea is to journal about what's working so you can continue to give your brain and bladder what they need.
If the idea of writing with a pen and paper feels daunting, there are apps specifically designed for bladder journaling. A few choices include iUFlow: Voiding Bladder Diary, Uro Today Bladder Diary, and Vesica App. But whether or not you decide to keep a bladder journal, remember, that there's no shame in dealing with an overactive bladder, and it’s okay to ask your doctor about this condition. They’ll help you figure out the best way forward.
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