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Bladder Boot Camp

Posted Dec 23 2008 9:35pm 1 Comment

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

- Beverly Sills

Your bladder is a muscular sack with two tasks – to hold, and eliminate, urine. In a normally functioning bladder, that process works like this: Urine descends into the bladder from the kidney via the ureters. The sphincter muscle at the bottom of the bladder keeps the urine from escaping. When the bladder is full, the muscular lining is stretched, giving the bladder the urge to contract. If your bladder functions normally, you can ignore the urge until it is more convenient, or at least until you get to the bathroom. If you wait too long, the urge will become unbearable and you will have to void.

What is too long? Nurses are notorious for making it through an 8 or 10 hour day before relieving themselves. Months or years of this behavior is bound to cause problems. People with overactive bladder symptom (OBS), or interstitial cystitis (IC) can sometimes last only minutes before the urge becomes too strong (sometimes painful) and they must void. If a person tries to hold urine “too long” they will either lose control (become incontinent), or they will experience pain and spasm, and possibly begin to retain urine. Neither one of these scenarios is desirable.

A normal bladder habit is one in which the person voids 4-6x/day and 0-2x/night. This means in a 24 hour day, if you are awake for 16 hours, you should be going to the bathroom every 3 ½ to 4 hours. If you are one of those 8 to 10 hour people – do yourself a favor and take a lunch break - go to the bathroom, your bladder will thank you. For those of you that are going to the bathroom more often, things are a little more difficult.

There are many reasons that a person may have a small bladder capacity. The muscle may be tight (like a shortened hamstring that needs to be stretched) or prone to spasm. The smaller capacity may be habitual. For instance, if you are pregnant, you get very used to making bathroom runs “just in case” every where you are, by the end of the last trimester, chances are you don’t go past a bathroom without stopping in. After the baby is born, going to the bathroom very often has become a habit, and eventually your bladder thinks that it is normal to go every hour or half hour.

If the problem is not painful, and the bladder does not seem to spasm (which is typically painful), then bladder training may be very beneficial for you. There are several different ways to re-train your bladder. I like to start with the bladder diary, and assess the voiding patterns.

Sometimes the diary will show that someone is only having problems when they consume things that irritate the bladder. I have had people completely “cured” simply by eliminating certain things from their diet. Things to look out for:

· Anything with caffeine – coffee, tea, chocolate

· Alcohol, particularly red-wines

· Citrus – juice or fruit

· Tomatoes (even spaghetti or pizza sauce)

· Anything carbonated

· Hot, spicy things

· Vinegar

Ok – that’s the short list, but most of the “biggies” are on it. Look carefully and be sure that you understand the relationship between what goes in and how quickly things come out. As a side note, water will help to keep your urine dilute, so the urine is not as concentrated, and not as likely to irritate the bladder, so drinking water (a few sips every 10 minutes or so) is highly recommended.

Before I go into the actual training part, remember that if having a full bladder is painful, then bladder training is probably not appropriate for you. Interstitial Cystitis patients particularly, if the lining of your bladder is compromised (Hunner’s ulcers), please question anyone that asks you to start a retraining program to explain their rationale. Be very clear that they understand what the lining of your bladder looks like, and what they hope to accomplish by stretching it.

When I feel it is safe to start someone on a training program, I look at the bladder diary. If you are going on the average 20x/day, that is voiding approximately every ½hour to 45 minutes. I try to take the conservative view, and assume that you can probably make it on a 30-minute schedule. You start with the first void of the morning, then every 30 minutes you stop what you are doing, and go take a comfortable trip to the bathroom. If you have to go at 20 minutes, take a big breathe, find a diversion, and try to ignore it for the next 10. Sometimes if you contract and relax the pelvic floor muscles two or three times (quick flick Kegels), it will help to control the urge. If you do not void at 30 minute, wait until the next scheduled void before you try again. If you absolutely cannot wait until the scheduled void, note the time that you went, and time subsequent voids based on the new time.

This first phase gets you in control of your bladder. You may actually be going more frequently than you would normally, but it is controlled by your brain, not your bladder. If this schedule is managed within a few days, we change the void schedule to 45 minutes. Again, beginning with the first void in the morning, and attempting to void every 45 minutes. After this we add 15 minutes about once a week. Sometimes we have to play with it a little, sometimes 15 minutes is too much to add; sometimes it takes longer than a week to master the new schedule.

Patients with pelvic floor dysfunction have to be extremely cautious when starting a training schedule. The “quick flick” method of controlling urge can have devastating effects on your ability to relax those muscles. “Holding” for too long can cause spasm in the pelvic floor, increased pain, and potential problems with retention. Although many medical practitioners are perfectly capable of establishing and following a bladder training program; for patients with pelvic floor problems I think that it is vital that you are being followed by a trained physical therapist with experience in treating the pelvic floor.

It is very important to pay attention to when it is difficult, and what is going on in your head when you have more frequency. Do you have a work bladder and a home bladder? Which one is easier to play with? Do you need to bring your home bladder to work with you? Stress can play a huge role in bladder activity, and you need to be able to find that place in you where you feel most relaxed, even if the environment is difficult.

Good luck, and safe training!

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