Harvard Health Letter

Regaining control of your bladder

Medications and surgery can cure urinary incontinence, but first try cutting back on fluids and exercising the pelvic floor.

From an early age, we learn to fend off the urge to urinate and instead "hold it" till we can get to a bathroom. But many people lose the ability to control when they urinate. In the brain-versus-bladder tug-of-war, the bladder seems to gain the upper hand. Often it's a matter of small leaks of urine now and then, but it's common for the problem to be a much bigger one, because of either the frequency of the leakage, the amount of urine that comes out, or both.

Incontinence is a common problem among younger women because vaginal childbirth can damage the tissues that support the lower urinary tract. Later on, age becomes a factor. In the United States, surveys show about one in every four women over age 60 has some degree of urinary incontinence. Fewer men are affected, although by about age 80, the prevalence is roughly the same in both sexes. Men catch up partly because urinary incontinence is associated with prostate problems and the procedures to fix them.

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