Conditions that affect bladder function are very common in women in the UK, with over one in three having urinary incontinence, around one in three having an overactive bladder and one in two having a prolapse. What’s more, menopause and childbirth can worsen the symptoms of these conditions. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help keep your bladder healthy.
Before we look at these five tips, it helps to first understand a little about what can often go wrong with your bladder.
Three of the most common conditions that can affect the bladder in women include prolapse, an overactive bladder and urinary incontinence.
Also known as pelvic organ prolapse, this refers to when one of your internal organs, usually your womb or bladder, slips down and bulges into your vagina. This occurs when the muscles and ligaments of your pelvic floor weaken. You may feel a bulge or pulling sensation in your vagina, and if your bladder has slipped down, you may feel that your bladder doesn’t fully empty when you urinate and/or develop urinary incontinence. Treatment includes pelvic floor exercises, using a pessary and, in severe cases, surgery.
This refers to leaking urine when you laugh, cough, sneeze, lift objects or exercise, or when you have sudden uncontrollable urges to urinate. There are several risk factors, including ageing, being overweight, childbirth, an overactive bladder and pregnancy. Treatments include losing excess weight, pelvic floor exercises and inserting a special device to prevent leaking.
An overactive bladder causes sudden, uncontrollable urges to urinate. You may find you leak urine as you can’t make it to the toilet in time and have disturbed sleep as you need to wake up often to urinate (nocturia). Treatments include changing your drinking habits, pelvic floor exercises, bladder training and certain medications (ie antimuscarinics or anticholinergics).
Many of the treatments for common bladder conditions are home remedies, which also help you maintain a healthy bladder.
1. Avoid beverages that stimulate or irritate your bladder
Caffeine, which is found in drinks such as coffee, tea and certain energy drinks, is a bladder stimulant. This means it increases your urge to urinate. It is also a diuretic, which means it increases your production of urine and dehydrates your body. Similarly, alcohol is also a bladder stimulant and diuretic.
Both caffeine and alcohol can, therefore, worsen the symptoms of an overactive bladder and urinary incontinence, so try to reduce how much you consume in a day. Acidic drinks, such as carbonated (fizzy) drinks, can also increase your urge to urinate and irritate your urinary system. Try to avoid or reduce your consumption of these drinks too.
2. Avoid foods that irritate your bladder
Acidic foods, just like acidic drinks, can irritate your urinary system and the lining of your bladder. Reducing how much of these foods you consume can, therefore, help keep your bladder healthy. Acidic foods include oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit and tomatoes.
3. Lose excess weight and maintain a healthy weight
If you are overweight or obese, the extra weight can increase the pressure in your abdomen. This, in turn, can weaken your pelvic floor muscles and apply greater pressure on your urinary system, both of which can lead to urinary incontinence and/or an overactive bladder.
It is, therefore, important to lose any excess weight in a healthy manner – crash diets are not effective in the long term. Try to incorporate regular exercise into your routine and follow a healthy diet to lose weight and keep it off.
4. Stay hydrated
Concentrated urine can irritate your bladder, so it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking approximately eight glasses of water, or other hydrating fluids, every day. Caffeine and alcohol are dehydrating, so try to keep these to a minimum. Also, spread out how much you drink throughout the day but make sure to drink more when you are thirsty or sweating.
If you have an overactive bladder, it is still important to stay hydrated. Reducing your fluid intake too much will concentrate your urine, irritate your bladder and ultimately worsen your symptoms.
5. Exercise your pelvic floor
pelvic floor exercises strengthen the muscles that support your bladder, rectum and vagina. They are a recommended treatment for women with bladder problems, such as urinary incontinence, a mild to moderate prolapse or an overactive bladder. In fact, under the guidance of a physiotherapist and alongside bladder training, pelvic floor exercises can reduce symptoms of all these conditions in seven out of 10 cases.
Importantly, regular pelvic floor exercises, as described in this NHS video, can also help prevent these conditions from developing.
Following these five tips can help keep your bladder healthy and prevent bladder problems from developing. However, if you experience any symptoms of bladder problems, such as leaking urine, sudden, uncontrollable urges to urinate, or a bulge or pulling sensation in your vagina, it is still important to see your GP.
Mr David Peter Thomas Ankers is a Consultant Gynaecologist and Laparoscopic Surgeon at Spire Abergele Consulting Rooms, Spire Yale Hospital and Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. He specialises in colposcopy and dilatation and curettage (D&C), endometrial ablation surgery, ovarian cyst removal, urodynamics, vaginal repair operation, hysteroscopy procedure and surgery, and laparoscopy investigation and treatment. He also has advanced training in gynaecological ultrasound and in urogynaecology as a pelvic floor surgeon and is an accredited colposcopist with the British Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (BSCCP).
If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.