Health / Health conditions


Help for Bladder Control Problems

Older woman with provider

Think about the last time you visited your primary care provider. What were the most common health issues you discussed? Weight? Blood pressure? Taking your prescriptions? What about problems with bladder control?

If you just cringed at that last one, you’re not alone.

Bladder control can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss. However urinary incontinence—when a person leaks urine by accident—can often be cured and controlled. To find the right treatment, it’s important to talk to your provider.

Why it happens 

While urinary incontinence can affect anyone, it is more common in older people, especially women. It can happen for many reasons, such as urinary tract infections, vaginal infection or irritation, or constipation. Some medicines can also cause bladder control problems that last a short time. 

When incontinence lasts longer, it may be due to:

  • Weak bladder muscles
  • Overactive bladder muscles
  • Weak pelvic floor muscles
  • Damage to nerves that control the bladder from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease
  • Blockage from an enlarged prostate in men
  • Diseases such as arthritis that may make it difficult to get to the bathroom in time
  • Pelvic organ prolapse, which is when pelvic organs (such as the bladder, rectum, or uterus) shift out of their normal place into the vagina. When pelvic organs are out of place, the bladder and urethra are not able to work normally, which may cause urine to leak.

Most incontinence in men is related to the prostate gland. Male incontinence may be caused by:

  • Prostatitis, a painful inflammation of the prostate gland
  • Injury or damage to nerves or muscles from surgery
  • An enlarged prostate gland, which can lead to benign prostate hyperplasia, a condition where the prostate grows as men age

How to find help

The first step in treating incontinence is to see your provider. They will take your medical history and ask about your symptoms and the medicines you use. They will want to know if you have been sick recently or had surgery. In addition, your provider also may do a number of tests, such as:

  • Urine and blood tests
  • Tests that measure how well you empty your bladder

Your provider may ask you to keep a daily diary of when you urinate and when you leak urine. 

Different types of treatment

Today, there are more treatments for urinary incontinence than ever before. The choice of treatment depends on the type of bladder control problem you have, how serious it is, and what best fits your lifestyle. As a general rule, the simplest and safest treatments should be tried first.

Bladder control training may help you get better control of your bladder. Your provider may suggest you try the following:

  • Pelvic muscle exercises (also known as Kegel exercises) work the muscles that you use to stop urinating. Making these muscles stronger helps you hold urine in your bladder longer.  
  • Biofeedback uses sensors to make you aware of signals from your body. This may help you regain control over the muscles in your bladder and urethra. Biofeedback can be helpful when learning pelvic muscle exercises.
  • Timed voiding may help you control your bladder. In timed voiding, you urinate on a set schedule, for example, every hour. You can slowly extend the time between bathroom trips. When timed voiding is combined with biofeedback and pelvic muscle exercises, you may find it easier to control your incontinence.
  • Lifestyle changes may help with incontinence, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, saying “no” to alcohol, drinking less caffeine (found in coffee, tea, and many sodas), preventing constipation, and avoiding lifting heavy objects. Choosing water instead of other drinks and limiting drinks before bedtime may also help.

Besides bladder control training, your provider may suggest other ways to manage incontinence, such as medicines or medical devices.  

Even after treatment, some people still leak urine from time to time. There are bladder control products and other solutions, including adult diapers, furniture pads, urine deodorizing pills, and special skin cleansers that may make leaking urine bother you a little less.

Visit the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases for more information on urinary incontinence.

Use your quarterly OTC benefit for incontinence supplies

Spend these funds—$25-$275, depending on your plan—on over-the-counter (OTC) health-related items, including incontinence supplies, cold remedies, and first aid supplies. You can use your benefits in 3 ways:

1. In-person at a participating retail store:
You can use your debit card in-person at these national stores: Walmart, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS Pharmacy®. For added convenience, download the NationsOTC app* to scan products in stores to determine eligibility and check your card balance.

2. Through the OTC Catalog online:
Log in to nationsotc.com/BCBSRI with your 16-digit card number. Select products, add to basket, and check out. 

3.Through the OTC Catalog by phone:
Call nationsOTC at 1-866-304-2138. They can look up your account—no debit card needed.

1Download the app from the App Store or Google Play. Apple and the Apple logo are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc. Google Play is a trademark of Google Inc..

Source: National Institute on Aging