There are many cliches that women are told when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Exercise regularly, eat healthy, get plenty of sleep. These are common types of phrases that people use to remember to keep their health in check. However, as women, there is often one important piece that is overlooked – the health of our bladder. Bladder problems are very common in women, and it isn't due to the estrogen.
The Numbers Behind Women’s Bladder Health
It may not be surprising to know that women are prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs) and incontinence. In fact, women are 30 times more likely to develop a UTI over their male counterparts. 1 in 3 women experience the pain and discomfort of a UTI before the age of 24, proving that urinary tract issues are not exclusive to older women. Due to large life events such as childbirth or menopause, a staggering 72% of middle-aged women also experience loss of bladder control at some point in their life.
While these statistics may seem worrisome, there are preventative measures, as well as treatment options, available to combat the side effects of any urologic problems you may encounter. The following tips and tricks are easy lifestyle changes that can improve bladder health.
Tip #1: Get to Know Yourself (Down There)
It isn't uncommon for women to not completely understand their female anatomy. Women's health is a topic that can be taboo to some. However, it shouldn't be something that is ignored. It is really important to not only understand female anatomy as a whole, but to specifically understand your own unique female anatomy. Every body is different, and you have to know your "normal" to know when something may be abnormal. I find that many women don’t actively seek medical advice because they are too embarrassed to talk about their urinary and gynecological concerns. This can have profound implications on your sexual, physical, and psychological health and well-being.
So where should you start? I suggest carving out some alone time to allow yourself an opportunity to explore your body. Grab a mirror, turn on some light music, and start your journey! The more you touch your body and familiarize yourself with your parts and pieces, the more you will become aware of what is normal for you, along with the feelings and sensations that give you pleasure.
Remember, there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about, and exploring will allow you to tune in more to what makes you…you!
Tip #2: Water, Water, Water!
Many of us think we’re getting enough water each day, but the majority of us aren’t. In women, it’s especially important to stay hydrated, as drinking more water can help prevent developing urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other irritation with the urethra.
That leaves us with the question, how much should you drink? I recommend drinking half of your body weight in ounces every day. Yes, you heard me right, and no – coffee, tea, vodka or Crystal Light does not count. In addition to drinking the correct amount of water, make sure to spread your water intake out throughout the day, and do your best to avoid fluids two hours before bed. This will help prevent sudden urge symptoms and save you from having to get up during the night to urinate.
Water is essential for the kidneys to function. If the kidneys do not function properly, waste products and excess fluid can build up inside the body - making you feel fatigued and lousy. With dehydration, the skin can also become more vulnerable to skin disorders and premature aging.
If you're suffering from constipation, this may also be due to dehydration. The bowels, like your urinary system, need water to work properly. Dehydration can lead to digestive problems and an overly acidic stomach. This increases the risk of heartburn and stomach ulcers, neither of which are pleasant experiences. Water dilutes your urine, contributing to less urinary urgency and frequency. To know if you are hydrated, a simple way to check is by looking at your urine. Your urine should be light yellow to clear in color if you are properly hydrated.
Tip #3: Avoid Bladder Irritants
Could your diet be affecting your bladder health? Absolutely! Making lifestyle changes when it comes to your diet is one of the easiest ways you can improve your bladder health. The foods and fluids you consume throughout the day greatly impact how your bladder functions and can even increase your risk of various types of incontinence. Certain foods and liquids are common causes of bladder irritation, that in turn can cause the bladder to spasm. The spasming can increase the discomfort in your pelvis, creating a strong urge to void.
Another good tip for improving bladder health is to prep your bladder by starting your day with 8oz of water. This helps to dilute your urine, creating a more stable environment for the foods you will consume the rest of your day. Moderate physical activity, 3-5 times a week, can also greatly improve any sorts of bladder control problems you may be experiencing.
Tip #4: Don’t Hold It!
A healthy bladder can hold 400 to 500 mL before realizing the desire to void. I often recommend setting time intervals as another key to managing bladder control problems and overall bladder health.
How often should you be urinating during the day? If you are staying hydrated, you should feel the need to urinate every 2-3 hours. It is important to do that, so you are not retaining too much urine in your bladder. Holding urine in your bladder for prolonged periods of time can lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs), kidney failure, and bladder muscle weakness which can ultimately increase your likelihood of developing urinary incontinence. It is important to not ignore your body's warning signs.
Women may limit their fluid intake, hoping that this will limit their need for frequent urination, however, this will only exacerbate the side effects of urinary incontinence. Concentrated urine, a side effect of dehydration, will increase bladder irritation and damage to the urinary system. If you fall into the teacher, nurse, or utility worker category (and there are more), you might often find yourself in situations when you cannot use the restroom when you feel the need to. I encourage all of my patients to talk with their management department to discuss ways that they may access a restroom more frequently to protect their bladder from over distention.
Tip #5: Consider a Personal Trainer (For Your Pelvis!)
As women, we hear a lot about Kegel exercises as a great way to strengthen our pelvic floor muscles. However, this is often not enough. The pelvis is a network of muscles and fascial structures all working together to hold our organs in the correct location and function properly. Many life events, surgeries, and injuries can alter how our pelvic floor muscles and our pelvic structures work. Weakness or tightness in the pelvic floor and surrounding muscles can cause urinary incontinence, genital pain, constipation, pain with intercourse, and pelvic organ prolapse.
Seeing a pelvic floor therapist can be a great tool in maximizing how your pelvis operates. These physical therapists have gone through extra training in the pelvic arena and have a better overall understanding of how these structures work together. Because all individuals and bodies are unique, the pelvic floor PT will develop a treatment plan geared towards your particular symptom improvement.
If you are experiencing symptoms of incontinence, whether it is something as common as urine leakage when you sneeze or laugh, a visit to a urologist can greatly improve your quality of life. Just because leakage is common, does not mean it has to be your reality. There are many treatment options for any bladder problem you may have. As previously mentioned, seeing a pelvic floor therapist is also a great way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which can give you better bladder control and can decrease discomfort often associated with urge incontinence or stress incontinence.
No matter your situation, Aeroflow Urology is here to help in your journey of developing better bladder health. You can get continence care products through your insurance, free of charge, by clicking the button and filling out the 2-step form below.
Information provided on the Aeroflow Urology blog is not intended as a substitute to medical advice or care from a healthcare professional. Aeroflow recommends consulting your healthcare provider if you are experiencing medical issues relating to incontinence.