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Summer Travel for You and Your Bladder: 7 Tips for Fewer Emergencies

June 15, 2023 | By: Douglas Feeney, MD

For an easier travel experience, a lot of experts advise packing light. But for those living with overactive bladder and urinary incontinence, extra baggage is hard to avoid.

More than 33 million Americans experience urinary incontinence or bladder issues that trigger the sudden and hard-to control urge to urinate. For those who live with these conditions, the immediate need to go while on the road, in an airport screening line, or when walking the streets of an old European village can transform a moment of wonder into sheer panic.

Don’t let incontinence or overactive bladder (OAB) give you the summertime vacation blues. A little advanced planning can provide the confidence to take control the wheel.

Do You Have OAB? The ‘Urgent’ Symptoms

If you need to pee frequently and urgently and have trouble making it to the bathroom in time, chances are you have some degree of OAB, one of the leading causes of urinary incontinence.

It’s OK; the causes are sometimes beyond your control, but they can be managed.

OAB typically occurs when the muscle that closes the bladder outlet (the sphincter) is weakened. Other factors, such as miscommunication among the nerves that control the bladder muscles or an enlarged prostate, also might contribute.

Common symptoms include frequent urination (eight or more times a day), waking up multiple times a night to urinate, and having difficulty controlling the need to go (leakage).

Take Control of Your Journey: 7 Incontinence Tips

OAB may feel isolating, but it shouldn’t keep you at home. There are options. These seven tips will help you gain more control.

  • Train your bladder for tourism. A few weeks before your trip, start scheduling when you pee, rather than waiting until you urgently have to go. Then gradually lengthen times between trips, for endurance. At the same time, practice pelvic-squeezing exercises, called Kegels, to strengthen the bladder muscles (both women and men).
  • Think twice about what you drink. Coffee, carbonated drinks, and some artificial sweeteners can irritate the bladder and trigger an extreme need to pee. Meanwhile, coffee and alcohol are diuretics, meaning they promote the need to urinate. If you expect to be away from a bathroom for a few hours, limit or avoid theses drinks beforehand.
  • Think about what you eat. If you like spicy tacos, get them with a side of black beans. Spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and tomatoes are potential OAB triggers, as well as foods high in liquid (like cucumbers). However, a range of foods can help your OAB, including beans, wheat bran, nuts, and high-fiber fruits and vegetables.
  • Use handheld technology. Duo Lingo can teach you to ask, “Where’s the bathroom” in Italian, but restroom locator apps will show you the nearest restrooms. Free options for the U.S. and abroad include Flush, Sit or Squat, and Bathroom Scout. Use these apps before you have to go – knowing bathroom locations helps you manage when and how much to drink.
  • Consider your Rx. Some medications can help you control the need to pee by blocking the chemical messengers that trigger involuntary muscle contractions. Other medications are designed to relax the bladder muscle. But note: some medications, including blood pressure meds and antidepressants, can worsen OAB. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them but be aware of their side effects.
  • Pack easy-access solutions and “easy-off” clothing. In addition to packing absorbent liners, medications, and extra undergarments in your suitcase, include some in your day bag or purse. When choosing what to wear, select clothing that’s easy to get out of in a hurry. Avoid restricting belts and pants with lots of fasteners or buttons.
  • Don’t smoke. Tobacco smoke has been shown to be a contributing risk factor for OAB and incontinence, because it can irritate the bladder and cause chronic coughing, which puts a lot of pressure on the pelvic muscles and can weaken them.

Book a Trip to the Urologist

Summer travel should be full of adventures. Rushing to use the bathroom before it’s too late should not be one of them. A urologist can help.

If you’re having trouble making it to the bathroom in time, talk to a urologist. OAB symptoms might be a sign of other health conditions, including urinary tract infections, diabetes, and blockages such as bladder stones or enlarged prostate.

Our physicians treat OAB and incontinence every day. Visit our dedicated web pages to learn more about diagnosing and treating OAB and incontinence for men and women.

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