While that’s not the ideal traveling companion, it’s a fact that makes many women consider staying home. They don’t have to.
It’s finally summer time, which means longer days, sunny afternoons and, for many, a summer road trip. And there are certainly some lovely destinations just a short car ride away in Colorado.
But, if you’re one of the millions of women in the United States who have urinary incontinence or overactive bladder (OAB), you might feel like a summer road trip is actually a highway to misery. The idea of hours in a car without a bathroom nearby might be discouraging. You may imagine all the potential embarrassing and uncomfortable accidents and decide that a road trip isn’t really worth the risk.
Many of my patients feel this way when they first come to see me – that OAB controls what they can and can’t do. My goal as a urogynecologist is to help all of my patients regain their independence. And oftentimes, making a few behavioral changes can greatly improve the quality of life for women with urinary incontinence.
That’s why I believe your OAB shouldn’t hold you back from taking that road trip this summer. While it may seem intimidating at first, with a little planning and preparation, it is possible to have your trip and enjoy it too.
Tips for a better summer road trip with urinary incontinence
Train your bladder now
One way to proactively prepare for a long trip is to train your bladder using bladder drills.
First, start keeping a record of how frequently you typically need to urinate. I recommend keeping a voiding diary, also called a bladder diary, in which you write down for several days how much and what you drink and how many times a day you urinate.
Then, try establishing a schedule for when you will go to the bathroom, for instance every 60 or 90 minutes, based on your current average interval between urinating. Over time, try increasing the minutes in between your bathroom breaks by small intervals.
If you feel like you have to go, but it isn’t time to use the bathroom yet, you can also try urge suppression techniques. As soon as you feel an urge, quickly contract your pelvic floor muscles 5 to 10 times while taking a few deep breaths. Distractions, such as counting backwards, may also help you successfully postpone your need to urinate.
Make smart food choices
You probably know from experience that some foods can aggravate your OAB and make you feel like you need to urinate more often. Consider what kind of food and drink choices will bring you the least amount of discomfort as you travel.
In general, limit your consumption of caffeinated drinks, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, carbonated beverages, chocolate, preservatives and spicy or acidic foods. Instead, choose foods that are good for you and your bladder, like those high in fiber and low in acidity.
In some cases, reducing your overall fluid intake may help relieve symptoms, particularly if you’re commonly going through multiple bottles of water a day. But be careful not to get dehydrated. Dehydration may make your symptoms worse. This is because when you’re dehydrated your urine is more concentrated, which can irritate your bladder. So stay hydrated by sipping water throughout the day.
Prioritize weight loss
If you’re overweight or obese, your weight may be making your incontinence worse. Research indicates that losing just 5 percent of your body weight can significantly improve OAB symptoms.
While long-term weight loss doesn’t happen overnight, summer can be a great time to kick-start changes to your diet and activity level. I recommend following a reduced calorie diet and getting at least 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise.
If losing weight sounds impossible, try speaking with your doctor. She may be able to refer you to a dietician or weight-loss support group. Your doctor can also tell you if medically assisted forms of weight loss, such as medication or surgery, are right for your situation.
Keep up your Kegels
Being on the road is no excuse to stop doing your Kegel exercises. You’ll spend hours sitting in the car – what better way to keep yourself occupied than to Kegel? Aim for three sets of 10 Kegel exercises daily and keep at it. Kegels improve your pelvic floor strength, which in turn can lessen urinary leakage.
Plan bathroom breaks
Another way to put your mind at ease before you travel is to identify potential bathroom stops along your route. You can use a road trip app, such as Along the Way, or a bathroom finding app, like SitorSquat or USA Rest Stops to help you find the nearest bathrooms before or during your travels.
It’s also a good idea to prioritize finding nearby bathrooms whenever you’re visiting a new location. Even if you don’t need to go right away, you’ll be prepared when the urge does strike.
Have a backup plan
Just in case you experience any urinary leakage or can’t make it to the bathroom in time, bring along incontinence pads and cleansing wipes. If you’ve never used these products before, test them out before you leave on your trip. You want to make sure their level of absorbency works for you and that they don’t irritate your skin after prolonged use.
If you know you will be away from a restroom for a long period of time, you can also try a disposable urinal product, like TravelJohn, or urination devices that allow you to urinate while standing, such as GoGirl or pStyle. These kinds of devices can be especially useful when camping or hiking, as they allow you to empty your bladder discreetly, without having to squat down.
Wearing darker colored clothing and having an extra set of clothes on hand can also help you prepare for any unforeseen accidents.
Don’t forget that your family and friends can be a strong source of support. If you’re worried that your incontinence may interfere with potential travel plans, communicate your concerns. Your family will understand if you need to arrange a few extra bathroom breaks or avoid that spicy Southwestern green chile.
Before you set out you can also consider talking to your physician about your plans. If you haven’t yet seen a urogynecologist, make an appointment and learn about other treatment options that might help you manage your OAB.
Wondering what a urogynecologist is and when to see one? Read our FAQ.
For instance, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication or develop a bladder training plan to help you get ready for your trip. In some cases, your doctor might recommend a support device, such as a pessary, or more advanced treatments, such as surgery. If you can, see your doctor at least a month before your trip, so you have time to carry out his or her recommendations.
Most importantly, don’t let urinary incontinence hold you back! If you have a concern about a specific activity, talk to your urogynecologist. She may have some more tips & recommendations to help you have a stress-free trip.
University of Colorado Urogynecology is a specialty women’s health practice focused on female pelvic health and surgery. Our physicians are also professors & researchers for the CU School of Medicine, one of the top-ranked medical schools in the nation.