Aging & Health A to Z
Care & Treatment
Stepped Approach to Treatment
The type of treatment your healthcare provider recommends will depend on the type of UI you have and what is causing it. Often, treatment is handled in a “stepped approach” that begins with addressing any medication or health problems that may be contributing to UI. After that, the next step is using non-invasive “behavioral” treatments. If these steps are not successful in treating your symptoms, your provider may move on to other steps, such as medications, devices, or procedures.
Be sure to tell your healthcare provider which aspects of UI are most troublesome to you, so that they can focus on resolving those issues.
Your healthcare provider may recommend changes in your lifestyle and behavior to treat UI, such as:
- Managing foods and drinks. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and other beverages and foods that may contribute to UI can help improve bladder control. Avoiding any fluids between dinner and bedtime (other than sips of water for taking medications if needed) may help reduce nighttime trips to the bathroom.
- Losing weight may also improve bladder control if you are overweight.
- Bladder training. This can help you better control urination by “training” the brain and bladder to delay urination when you get a very urgent need to go. Bladder training starts with going to the bathroom on a regular schedule to help keep the bladder empty, and techniques to suppress the strong urges.
- Pelvic floor muscle exercises (Kegel exercises). These exercises help strengthen the muscles that help support the bladder and urethra. Many patients start with instructions from their healthcare provider. You might be referred to a specialized nurse or physical therapist to help make sure you are contracting the right muscles.
If behavioral approaches are not effective, your provider may recommend medication. Several medications may be used to treat urge UI; currently there are no medications to treat stress UI.
- Antimuscarinics. These medications decrease the activity of the bladder muscles. These medications should be used very cautiously in older adults, however, because they often cause dry mouth, dry eyes, constipation, and can increase confusion and the risk of falls.
- Mirabegron. This is a newer medication that decreases the activity of the bladder muscle. It has different side effects than antimuscarinic medications. It can cause an increase in blood pressure and can interact with commonly used medications like metoprolol. It also may be expensive.
- Alpha-blockers and 5-alpha reductase inhibitors. These medications are often used to treat men with urinary symptoms due to an enlarged prostate. Alpha blockers can cause a drop in blood pressure in some men.
Devices and Procedures
Sometimes, a device or intervention is needed to treat UI. Some of these include:
- Pessarys. These are small devices inserted into the vagina for women who have a “dropped” bladder or uterus. They work by supporting the bladder muscle and preventing urine leakage. There are different kinds of pessaries, so your healthcare provider or specialist will work with you to find the best fit.
- Nerve stimulators. These devices are implanted under the skin like pacemakers. They send painless electrical pulses to nerves that control the bladder muscle to treat urge incontinence.
- Tibial nerve stimulation. A small electrode is placed on the skin above the ankle and used to stimulate a nerve. This requires a number of sessions to get a full effect.
- Botulinum toxin (“Botox”). An urologist or urogynecologist will insert a tube into the bladder through the urethra and use a small needle to inject a small amount of botulinum toxin into the bladder muscle to help decrease unwanted contractions. The effect can last several months. Some patients may need to empty their bladder using a catheter for a while after the procedure.
- Surgery. Depending on the type of UI, there are several surgical procedures that may be performed to treat urinary incontinence that has not responded to other treatments. Surgery is most commonly used for stress incontinence in women.
Updated: December 2017
Posted: March 2012