Certain aspects of our health can be difficult to talk about. Some topics may feel embarrassing to bring up, or we may find it uncomfortable to share certain details with our health care providers. One of these topics may be your bladder health.
Talking openly with your doctor about bladder health is an important part of maintaining a healthy bladder.
But your bladder health is important to your overall health and wellness, and it’s time to talk about it! Learn more about common bladder conditions, symptoms of an unhealthy bladder and steps you can take to keep your bladder healthy.
What Does Your Bladder Do?
According to the National Institute on Aging, your bladder is a hollow organ located in your lower abdomen. Your bladder is like a balloon that fills up as it stores urine. Your urine contains waste and extra fluid left over after your body takes what it needs. Each day, you pass urine through the bladder and out of the body.
What Are Some Common Bladder Conditions?
There are many different conditions that can affect the health of your bladder, and even if we don’t like to discuss them, many bladder conditions are very common.
Just like other parts of your body, your bladder changes as you get older. It may become less flexible, making it harder to hold as much urine. This change may cause you to have to go to the bathroom much more often. The pelvic floor muscles may also become weaker as you age, making it harder to empty your bladder fully. This can cause urine to leak. According to the Office on Women’s Health, it is very common for people to report problems related to urinary incontinence, urine frequency and urine urgency.
According to Medline Plus, common bladder conditions include:
- Cystitis – inflammation of the bladder, often caused by an infection, such as a urinary tract infection
- Urinary incontinence – a loss of bladder control or accidentally leaking urine
- Overactive bladder – a condition in which the bladder squeezes urine out at the wrong time
- Interstitial cystitis – a chronic problem that causes bladder pain and frequent, urgent urination
- Bladder cancer – when the cells in the bladder start to grow out of control
What Are the Symptoms of a Bladder Condition?
According to the National Institute on Aging, common symptoms of bladder conditions include:
- A need to urinate more frequently or urgently
- Cloudy urine or bloody urine
- Inability to hold urine or leaking urine
- Pain or burning before, during or after urinating
- Trouble emptying your bladder
- Trouble starting to urinate
If you notice any of these symptoms, reach out to your health care provider. Your health care provider may do a few tests to check for bladder issues, which may include urine tests, X-rays or an examination of the bladder. Treatment depends on the cause of the problem, but bladder conditions are treatable – sometimes with medicine, other times with simple exercises. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
How Can I Keep My Bladder Healthy?
While you can’t control everything that happens to your bladder, there are several steps you can take to keep your bladder as healthy as possible.
- Use the bathroom often and whenever you need to. The National Institute on Aging recommends using the bathroom every 3-4 hours. Holding urine in your bladder for too long can make a bladder infection more likely and it may weaken your bladder muscles.
- Take enough time to fully empty your bladder. When you use the bathroom, try to relax your muscles and take your time, so that you can fully empty your bladder. You’re more likely to get a bladder infection when you don’t completely empty it.
- Use good hygiene practices. Small amounts of bacteria live in a normal, healthy bladder, but because the bladder and bowels are right next to each other, they can impact each other. For women, wiping from front to back is important because it prevents bacteria from getting into the urethra. It’s also important to urinate after sex to lower the risk of infection. Wearing cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes can help keep the area surrounding your urethra dry. Certain fabrics and tight clothes can trap moisture and help bacteria grow.
- Maintain a healthy weight. According to the National Institute of Aging, people who are overweight are at greater risk for bladder problems. Extra body weight puts pressure on the bladder, making it harder to control.
- Stay active. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent constipation. Too much stool can put pressure on the bladder and keep it from expanding as it needs to.
- Do pelvic floor exercises. If you regularly do pelvic floor exercises or Kegel exercises, you can strengthen your pelvic muscles, making it easier to prevent leaks when you sneeze or cough or have a sudden urge to urinate. To learn more, check out these pelvic floor muscle training exercises.
- Watch what you eat and drink. Some people with bladder problems find that certain foods, such as spicy foods, citrus fruits and tomato-based foods, or drinks like soda or alcohol, can make bladder problems worse. Talk to your health care provider about dietary changes you can make that may help you maintain a healthy bladder.
- Drink enough water. If you aim to urinate every 3-4 hours, you’ll need to drink water regularly throughout the day. You want your urine to be pale yellow. How much water each person needs varies, but you can talk to your health care provider about what makes sense for you. Check out H2O: Are You Getting Enough? for tips on how to add more water to your daily diet.
- Quit smoking. According to the National Institute on Aging, smoking increases your risk for bladder cancer and other bladder problems. Make a Plan You Can Stick To: Quit Smoking Today offers several helpful tips and resources for quitting.
- Learn more about your medications. According to the Mayo Clinic, some high blood pressure medicines, heart medicines, muscle relaxers and anti-depressants can play a part in your bladder control problems. For example, a muscle relaxer may dull the nerves of the bladder, making it harder for you to feel the urge to urinate. Talk to your health care provider about the impact of any medications you’re taking.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers urinary incontinence resources and support. VA also has information and resources related to bladder cancer, which is the fourth most diagnosed cancer in VA. Veterans may be at increased risk for bladder cancer due to certain chemical exposures during their service.
- The National Institute on Aging offers various articles related to bladder health, including tips for older adults on improving their bladder health, information on urinary incontinence and more.
- Urology Care Foundation has several resources related the bladder health awareness, including information on common bladder conditions and tips for talking about them with your health care provider.
Talking openly with your doctor about bladder health is an important part of maintaining a healthy bladder. If we understand more about bladder health and common bladder conditions, we can seek treatment and make lifestyle changes to keep ourselves healthy.