Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: Can bladder training help with incontinence?

Q. I have urinary incontinence and have heard bladder training might help. Could it stave off surgery?

A. Bladder training can go a long way toward helping with urinary incontinence—a very common condition in women. You can easily cope with intermittent incontinence by wearing a pad, but the condition can become severe enough to affect important activities like exercise, social events, and travel. The good news is that many women with incontinence respond to nonsurgical treatments, and bladder control training is often successful.

Bladder control training entails learning to urinate on a schedule (timed voiding) and doing pelvic muscle exercises (Kegels). Timed voiding means you urinate on a set schedule, not when your bladder urges you to do so. You can definitely learn to do this yourself. First, start by keeping track of the times when you urinate or leak for a few days. From this voiding diary, calculate how long you typically wait between urinations, then choose an interval that's 15 minutes longer than what you normally wait. On the first day of training, empty your bladder in the morning, and don't urinate again until the interval you've set has passed. If that time arrives before you feel the urge, go anyway to stick to the schedule. If the urge comes early, do whatever you can to hold off urinating. Cross your legs, breathe slowly, or do Kegel exercises.

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