As the seasons grow colder, many of us will experience colds, flu, and COVID-19. While we often focus on the typical symptoms of these illnesses - fever, cough, fatigue, and sore throat - there's a symptom that isn’t well-known but can very much affect your health: A loss of bladder control (urinary incontinence).
It might be a surprise, but a link exists between these infections and your bladder. Whether it's the pressure exerted on your pelvic floor during a fit of coughing or sneezing, the side effects of over-the-counter medications, or your body's inflammatory response when battling COVID-19, your urinary health can be impacted in unexpected ways.
How the Cold, Flu, & COVID-19 Cause Urinary Incontinence
Having a cold, the flu, or COVID-19 can cause you to experience common symptoms of urinary incontinence or the loss of bladder control, leading to urine leakage. Your bladder can be affected by illness due to pressure placed on your pelvic floor, recovering from illness, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, and inflammatory responses to COVID-19.
Pressure On the Pelvic Floor
Upper respiratory infections or illnesses that irritate your chest and throat usually make you cough or sneeze. When coughing and sneezing, you’re placing pressure on your abdominal muscles, which also put pressure on your pelvic floor muscles.
The pelvic muscles are like a hammock to your bladder, bowels, and uterus and hold them all in place. They also allow you to control when you pee, known as continence. Excessive force from coughing and sneezing fatigues these muscles, and you lose the support of your urethra and bladder.
When you no longer have control over your bladder, you experience urinary incontinence- specifically, stress urinary incontinence (SUI). Stress incontinence causes urine leaks when sneezing, coughing, bending over, or lifting heavy objects.
Recovering From Illness
You need to rest and hydrate when you have a cold or flu. While these are the proper steps to take to heal from sickness, each leads to increased urinary symptoms.
- Resting: Decreased physical activity while recovering from illness leads to weak muscles, particularly your pelvic floor muscles, adding to incontinence symptoms like bladder leakage.
- Hydration: Increasing your fluid intake causes your kidneys to filter more fluid from your body, causing increased urination.
Many people opt for OTC medications to lessen cold or flu symptoms. However, certain OTC cold medications lead to constipation. The hard and backed-up stool that forms when you’re constipated pushes on your bladder and decreases the sensation of needing to empty your bladder, causing urine leakage and more frequent voiding urges. This can also lead to frequent urination, known as urge incontinence.
COVID-19 Inflammatory Response
When you contract COVID-19, your body has an extreme inflammatory response in which your immune system secretes cytokines (proteins) to fight the inflammation. Cytokines directly attack your bladder and cause damage to the nerves that supply the bladder, leading to an increased urge to pee, related to urge incontinence. Even after recovering from a Covid-19 infection, you may still experience bladder control problems.
Increased Illness Due to the Pandemic
While there’s always a chance you’ll experience urinary incontinence symptoms while you have a cold or flu, this year may bring an even greater chance you’ll experience changes in your urinary system due to COVID-19.
Typical pandemics usually last around 3 years before affecting people as a routine cold, so there will likely be another surge of COVID-19 infections this winter season. There may also be increased illness and upper respiratory infections since our immune systems haven’t been as exposed to these viruses since the pandemic began.
It’s estimated that you may experience 2 to 3 colds this winter rather than the typical 1 or 2 and that it will last longer than usual when you get a cold. This will give your body extra opportunities to have changes that lead to incontinence, specifically coughing, sneezing, body aches, resting, less exercise, and dehydration.
How to Reduce Leaks This Cold & Flu Season
Taking care of your body and bladder will be vital this winter! Here’s what to do to keep things functioning properly.
- Hydrate. Staying hydrated helps your kidneys filter out bladder irritants present in the body while you’re sick. Drinking enough fluids also helps your body recover from illness by filtering out toxins.
- Wear bladder control products. Incontinence products can help control bladder leaks if you’re experiencing incontinence symptoms. Many options are discreet and comfortable, such as:
If you need bladder control pads or protective underwear and have been diagnosed with urinary incontinence by your healthcare provider, you may be eligible to receive your products for free through Medicaid. See if you qualify in under 5 minutes today.
- Empty your bladder often. Since you’ll be hydrating more when you’re sick, your bladder will fill up faster, so voiding more frequently can fight the sudden urge to urinate and accidents when your bladder fills up too quickly.
- Exercise. You may not feel like it, but exercise been shown to help shorten a cold and keep your pelvic floor muscles strong throughout your cold and recovery. You should move your whole body, but you can also focus on pelvic floor exercises such as Kegel exercises. These will help strengthen your pelvic floor and reduce leaks. To do Kegels, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles up and in, then hold and release.
- See your healthcare provider. You should see your provider if you’re ill, but it may also be helpful to visit your doctor or a urologist if you’re experiencing symptoms of urinary incontinence. Tell them about your symptoms so they can inform you of any lifestyle changes you should make to reduce symptoms.
- Supplement with aloe vera. Aloe vera has been shown to decrease inflammation in the body, improve your immune system, and soothe your urinary tract. You can take aloe vera supplements while sick or experiencing urinary incontinence symptoms.
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Information provided on the Aeroflow Urology blog is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or care from a healthcare professional. Aeroflow recommends consulting your healthcare provider if you are experiencing medical issues relating to incontinence.