Here, we debunk some common misconceptions about urinary incontinence.

But first recognize that the problem is more common than you think. Urinary incontinence (UI), or the loss of bladder control, affects over 3.3 million Canadians, nearly 10 per cent of the population. Worldwide about 200 million people are affected. And these numbers are likely understated, due to the stigma and embarrassment associated with UI.

Perhaps because so many people don’t want to talk about it — even with their doctors — bladder leakage is widely misunderstood. Here, we take a look at some of the more common myths.

1. Only older people get it. While risk for incontinence increases with age, people can experience symptoms at any time. Bladder leakage can be caused by a number of factors, including pregnancy, an enlarged prostate, weakened pelvic muscles, nerve damage, medication side effects or infection. And while risk for UI goes up as we age — mainly, for women, due to the decrease of estrogen that occurs during menopause — it’s not a given you’ll have urine leakage once you reach a certain age.

2. In men, IU is a symptom of prostate cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, while incontinence can be associated with untreated prostate cancer, more often, it is a side effect of treatments for prostate cancer.

3. You should drink as little water as possible. While limiting the amount you drink may sound like a good idea, drinking plenty of water, but in small doses throughout the day can actually help stop leakage. Severely limiting fluids can cause the urine to be more concentrated, which irritates the bladder and makes the problem worse. Also, try to avoid having anything to drink within two hours of going to bed.

4. A small bladder is to blame. While it seems a logical culprit for UI, our body’s bladder capacity (typically ranging from 1 to 2 cups) is rarely the problem.

5. You just have to live with it; there’s nothing to be done. While surgery is an option for some people, it is usually for more extreme cases and a last resort. For most people, simple lifestyle changes or medical treatment can ease discomfort or stop urinary incontinence. Drug therapy may be prescribed to relax the bladder or treat urinary infection. Making these basic lifestyle changes can also help:

    • Limit or avoid certain foods and drinks that can act as diuretics. These include alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, tomatoes, citrus and other acidic foods, artificial sweeteners, hot spices and carbonated drinks.
    • Exercise pelvic floor muscles. These muscles can be strengthened just like your biceps or quadriceps, and will help with bladder control. Basically, this means isolating and squeezing the muscles you’d use to stop urinating. (For more information, go here.) As with any exercise plan, it’s important to practice regularly. For best results, work up to holding the contractions for 10 seconds at a time, and repeat three sets of 10 repetitions each day.
    • Shed a few pounds. Carrying extra weight increases pressure on your bladder and surrounding muscles, which weakens them and allows urine to leak out when you cough or sneeze.

6. People with bladder leakage need to give up or limit certain fitness activities, social gatherings or travel opportunities. If you’re experiencing bladder leakage, there’s a range of products that can help, like Depend Real Fit for men or Silhouette Briefs for women that provide protection, but feel more like real underwear. It’s a long way from the uncomfortably bulky adult diaper of yester year. Which, we say, is a good thing.