For many people with incontinence, the following self-help tips and lifestyle changes are enough to relieve symptoms.
Do daily pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises can be really effective at reducing leakage, but it's important to do them properly. Find out how to do pelvic floor exercises.
You may have to do pelvic floor exercises for three months before you see any benefits.
If you smoke, you put yourself at risk of incontinence, because coughing puts strain on your pelvic floor muscles.
Advice to help you stop smoking is available from your GP or pharmacist.
If you want to go direct, find your nearest NHS Stop Smoking Service from the NHS Smokefree website, or call the Smokefree National Helpline to speak to a trained adviser on 0300 123 1044.
Read more about how to stop smoking.
Do the right exercises
High-impact exercise puts pressure on your pelvic floor muscles and can increase leakage. Sit-ups can also make you leak by straining your pelvic floor muscles.
If you want to strengthen your pelvic floor to relieve symptoms, replace jogging and aerobics classes with pilates. This gentle method of stretching and strengthening core muscles has become more popular as a treatment for stress incontinence.
Lifting puts strain on your pelvic floor muscles, so avoid it wherever you can.
When you do need to lift something, like picking up children or shopping bags, tighten your pelvic floor muscles before and during the lift.
Fight incontinence by losing weight
Being overweight can weaken your pelvic floor muscles and can cause incontinence, because of the pressure of fatty tissue on the bladder.
Your symptoms may improve, and could clear up completely, if you lose the excess weight.
To check whether you're a healthy weight, use our healthy weight calculator. Your body mass index (BMI) is a measure of whether you're a healthy weight for your height.
Read more about how to lose weight.
Treat constipation promptly
Straining to empty your bowels weakens your pelvic floor muscles and makes leakage worse.
Never delay the urge to empty your bowels. If you have constipation, it may help to change your diet and lifestyle.
Read more about food and diet.
Cut down on caffeine
Caffeine irritates the bladder and can make incontinence worse.
Coffee has the biggest effect, so stop drinking it or switch to decaffeinated.
Fizzy drinks, tea, green tea, energy drinks and hot chocolate also contain caffeine, so cut down on these too and replace them with water and herbal or fruit teas.
Cut down on alcohol to improve incontinence
Alcohol is a diuretic, which makes you urinate more often. Cutting down may help your incontinence symptoms.
Read more on how to cut down on your drinking.
Drink plenty of water
Drink six to eight glasses of fluid a day (but no more) unless your doctor advises you otherwise.
Many people with urinary incontinence avoid drinking fluids, as they feel it causes more problems. However, limiting your fluid intake makes incontinence worse, because it reduces your bladder's capacity.
Too little fluid can also cause or worsen constipation.
Find out which are the healthiest drinks.
Eat the right foods
Avoid spicy and acidic foods, such as curries and citrus fruits, as they can irritate the bladder and make leaks and other incontinence symptoms worse.
For more tips, see living with incontinence.
Page last reviewed: 24 October 2016
Next review due: 24 October 2019