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Going Once, Going Twice… 'Going' Too Often

Bathroom. Back to bed. Bathroom. Back to bed. Bathroom. Back to…well, you get the idea. If your frequent need to urinate at night makes you feel like you're on a treadmill, or if you've sometimes "gotta go" but don't quite make it in time, you're not alone.

Bladder control problems and urine leakage affect about 30 percent of women over the age of 40, and up to 15 percent of men over 65, according to Dr. Patricia S. Goode, an internist, geriatrician, and Medical Director of the Continence Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

A person with normal bladder function who drinks the recommended six to eight glasses of water daily should require a bathroom visit every two to four hours during the day and no more than once or twice a night.

Incontinence can be caused or aggravated by a number of health problems, such as excess weight, chronic coughing, frequent constipation, a urinary-related infection, or altered muscle activity in your bladder area. In men, prostate problems often play a role. Medicines for high blood pressure, insomnia, depression, and heart disease can also affect continence.

Many post-menopausal women experience a condition known as stress incontinence, caused by a loss of strength in the sphincter muscles that surround the opening of the bladder. Diseases such as Parkinson's, diabetes, and strokes can affect continence by damaging the nerves that control your bladder function.

A number of lifestyle changes can help fight minor incontinence, from reducing your intake of caffeine and alcohol (they cause you to urinate more frequently) to eating less acidic or spicy foods (they can irritate your bladder). If leakage is a problem, try going to the bathroom on a fixed schedule rather than waiting until the need is severe, and learn the habit of crossing your legs when you feel a cough coming on.

Special exercises for the pelvis area, known as Kegels, can help both men and women prevent accidental urination by strengthening the bladder-control muscles.

But while urine leakage is common, Dr. Goode points out that it’s not normal, and anyone who experiences it should see a doctor. If lifestyle adjustments aren't enough to solve the problem, a wide range of effective medical treatments are available, from medications to biofeedback to surgery. Incontinence is one aggravating problem that you don’t have to live with.

Article last updated: January 20, 2010 3:27 PM