Oftentimes, having one condition can increase your risk for other issues. This is true for diabetes and incontinence, or the accidental release of urine or fecal matter. Incontinence can also be a symptom of an overactive bladder (OAB), which is the sudden urge to urinate.

One Norwegian study found that incontinence affected 39 percent of women with diabetes and 26 percent of women without diabetes. Another review suggested that type 2 diabetes may affect incontinence, but more research is needed. In general, lots of people deal with various types of incontinence and levels of severity. The common types include:

  • stress, leakage is due to pressure on the bladder
  • urge, uncontrolled leakage due to a need to void
  • overflow, leakage due to full bladder
  • functional, nerve, or muscle damage causes leakage
  • transient incontinence, a temporary side effect from a condition or medication

Read on to learn how diabetes contributes to incontinence and what you can to do manage the condition.

The exact link between diabetes and incontinence is unknown. The four possible ways that diabetes can contribute to incontinence are:

  • obesity puts pressure on your bladder
  • nerve damage affects the nerves that control the bowel and the bladder
  • a compromised immune system increases the risk for urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can cause incontinence
  • diabetes medication may cause diarrhea

Also, high blood sugar levels seen with diabetes can cause you to become thirstier and urinate more. The excess sugar in your blood triggers thirst, which then leads to more frequent urination.

Other factors that may increase your risk include:

  • being female, as women have a higher risk for incontinence than men
  • childbirth
  • older age
  • other health conditions such as prostate cancer or multiple sclerosis
  • obstruction in the urinary tract
  • urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Talk to your doctor about incontinence. Your doctor can help determine if your condition is directly related to diabetes or if there is another underlying cause. It’s also possible to treat incontinence. In some cases, treating the underlying cause can cure incontinence.

Before you visit your doctor, it may be helpful to start keeping a bladder journal. A bladder journal is where you make note of:

  • when and how often you go to the bathroom
  • when the incontinence happens
  • how frequently it occurs
  • if there are any particular triggers such as laughing, coughing, or certain foods

During your appointment, your doctor will ask about your medical history, symptoms, and conduct a physical exam. They may also do a urinalysis to measure your urine level.

Incontinence treatment depends on the type. If your medications are causing incontinence, your doctor may be able to discuss different treatment options or ways to manage it. Or you may need antibiotics if you have a UTI. Your doctor may also recommend a dietitian that can plan a suitable diet to incorporate more soluble fiber. This can help with regulating bowel movements and reducing constipation.

Keeping blood sugar levels within the targets set by you and your doctor can also help. Well-controlled blood sugar can reduce the risk of complications, such as nerve damage, that can lead to incontinence. It can also reduce the symptoms of high blood sugar, such as excessive thirst and excessive urination.

If there’s no underlying cause, lifestyle changes are the most effective ways to manage incontinence, even if you have diabetes.

These lifestyle changes include:

TreatmentMethod
Kegel exercisesFocus on the muscles you use to hold in urine. Squeeze them for 10 seconds before relaxing. You should aim to do 5 sets of these exercises per day. Biofeedback can help ensure you are doing them correctly.
Scheduled bathroom breaks and bladder retrainingUse your bladder diary to plan your trips. You can also retrain your bladder to hold more urine by extending time between trips a few minutes at a time.
High-fiber dietEat high-fiber foods such as bran, fruit, and vegetables to avoid constipation.
Weight loss, if you are overweightMaintain a healthy weight to avoid putting extra pressure on your bladder and pelvic floor.
Double voidingWait a minute after you urinate and try to go again. This can help completely empty your bladder.
HerbsPumpkin seeds, capsaicin, and khoki tea may help.
Drug therapyTalk to your doctor about medications that can help you manage incontinence.
Insertion devicesThese devices can help women avoid leakage and manage stress incontinence.

For more severe cases that interfere with daily life, or if the above options don’t work, your doctor may recommend surgery. Currently there is no Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medication for incontinence specifically.

In addition to the steps mentioned above, there are steps you can take to maintain bladder health.

Try to

  • manage your blood sugar levels
  • keep your pelvic floor strong (Kegels)
  • schedule bathroom breaks
  • exercise regularly

Read more: Home remedies for an overactive bladder »

Avoid

  • carbonation or caffeine
  • drinking before bed
  • spicy or acidic foods, which irritate the urinary tract
  • drinking too much liquid at once

The outlook of diabetes-related incontinence depends on what aspects of diabetes caused this condition and if there’s another underlying cause. Researchers are continuing to look into the link between diabetes and incontinence. Some people have temporary incontinence while others may need to learn how to manage their condition.

It may be difficult to treat incontinence due to nerve damage. Kegel exercises can serve as a tool to keep urine from passing involuntarily. People who also manage their bathroom habits, such as when they need to go, often show signs of improvement as well.

Keep reading: 11 foods to avoid if you have OAB »