Urinary incontinence: Incontinence products to help keep you dry

In some circumstances, bladder control problems are difficult to manage. These effective and discreet incontinence products can help. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Although medical devices don't cure bladder control problems, they can help you manage urinary incontinence. A number of devices — including urethral inserts and pessaries — are available to reduce urine leakage or help you better control your urge to urinate.

Incontinence products fall into two main groups. One group consists of internal and external devices that keep urine from leaking out of the bladder. The other group includes various nerve stimulation devices that, when used over time, strengthen the muscles that support your pelvic organs and help maintain continence. Here's a rundown of different incontinence products that may help you.

Internal devices

An important benefit of these devices is that you can use them only when you think they'll be needed. The downside is that some people find them uncomfortable.

Urethral inserts
Urethral inserts are small, tampon-like disposable plugs that a woman inserts into her urethra to prevent urine from leaking out. Urethral inserts are generally worn before engaging in activities that might result in stress urinary incontinence, and they may be worn throughout the day. Whenever you need to urinate, you simply remove the device. Urethral inserts are not meant to be worn 24 hours a day. Urethral inserts are available by prescription.

One example of a urethral insert is the FemSoft Insert. The single-use disposable device — made of soft silicone — is a tube with a balloon-like tip. Encasing the tube is a sheath filled with mineral oil. The device is inserted into the urethra and up into the neck of the bladder with an applicator. Most of the mineral oil in the device then flows into the balloon tip. Because the balloon tip is soft and filled with fluid, it conforms to the shape of your bladder neck, creating a seal. This seal prevents urine from leaking out. When you need to urinate, you remove the insert.

Your doctor or nurse practitioner may prescribe a pessary (PES-uh-re) — a silicone or latex device, usually shaped like a ring or a disc, that's inserted into your vagina. You can wear a pessary all day. The device helps support your bladder to prevent urine leakage. You may benefit from a pessary if you have incontinence due to a dropped (prolapsed) bladder or uterus.

A pessary usually is fitted and put into place by a doctor or nurse practitioner. If you have a pelvic infection, it should be treated before you're fitted with the device, to avoid complications. You usually don't need to remove the pessary to urinate, but you do need to regularly remove it to clean it. Some of the side effects of pessary use include an allergic reaction to the latex or silicone, infection and pressure sores. Pressure sores are more common if you're postmenopausal because vaginal tissue can become more sensitive and less elastic after menopause. Vaginal estrogen cream may help prevent this.

External devices

Absorbent products
There are a variety of products designed to absorb leakage, including specially designed briefs, liners and pads. Pads for urinary incontinence are not the same as menstrual pads and are able to hold much more moisture. These products come in a range of sizes, absorbency levels and materials, so look for one tailored to your body type and need.

Jan. 29, 2011 See more In-depth