November is Bladder Health Month, a great reason to learn how to maintain this essential organ. After all, we use it multiple times a day! The bladder is located in the lower abdomen and has a balloon-like structure. In fact, the word “bladder” has origins meaning “to blow” because animal bladders were once used for their buoyancy and storage capacity.
The bladder stores urine and is a part of the urinary system that includes the kidneys, ureters and urethra. When we take in food and drink, leftover fluids and wastes are directed into the urinary system, eventually being held in the bladder until expelled from the body. As we age, the bladder loses its elasticity, and the walls and pelvic floor muscles often weaken, causing incontinence and other issues.
Common bladder problems
One of the most common bladder problems is the urinary tract infection, or UTI. UTIs are the second most common infection within the body and affect about half of all women at least once in their lifetime. As the bladder and pelvic floor muscles weaken with age, it gets more difficult to completely expel stored urine. The small bit that remains in the bladder can cause an infection. A UTI may progress into a kidney infection, which is more severe and can cause complications if it occurs with frequency. UTIs and bladder infections can cause sudden and strong urges to urinate and discomfort that makes it difficult to focus on daily activities. Fever, nausea, chills, pain and confusion can also be signs of a UTI or other infection within the bladder.
Urinary incontinence is another common problem, more so in women than men. Pregnancy and childbirth have a lot to do with this statistic, as the weight of carrying a baby and labor can both cause significant damage. Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles through Kegels has been known to help with some incontinence. Some women may need to opt for surgery, in which case a physician at Hancock Obstetrics and Gynecology can walk you through various options.
Bladder cancer is another disease occurring within the urinary tract. Affecting the lining of the bladder, this typically infects older adults more so than young people. The most common symptom of this type of cancer is blood in the urine. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and biological therapy. Bladder cancer is likely to recur, so proper treatment and follow-up are vital.
What are some causes of bladder problems?
The most common causes of bladder issues are the normal process of aging, pregnancy and childbirth. Aside from these, diabetes, obesity, low physical activity, smoking, some medications, alcohol consumption, caffeine, diet and pelvic injury can cause problems within the urinary tract. The risk of UTIs may increase with sexual activity or the use of a catheter to urinate.
Symptoms you should look for that could signal a bladder problem include:
- Leakage of urine
- Frequent urination (day or night)
- Sudden and urgent need to pee
- Pain or burning before, during or after urinating
- Pee that is cloudy or bloody
- Trouble starting to urinate
- A weak stream of pee or passing only small amounts
- Trouble emptying the bladder
What can you do to ensure bladder health?
If you want to ensure a healthy bladder and urinary tract, make sure to drink plenty of fluids, especially water. You also should limit your alcohol and caffeine consumption, as both contribute to dehydration. Avoid constipation by consuming plenty of fibrous fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These lifestyle and wholesome food choices will help you maintain a healthy weight, which also aids bladder health.
Exercise regularly and perform Kegel exercises, or contractions of the pelvic floor muscles. When you use the bathroom, make sure you take the time to fully empty your bladder. Women, make sure to wipe from front to back so that bacteria don’t have the chance to enter the urethra. Use the bathroom often and don’t try to “hold it.” If you participate in sexual activities, pee afterward to flush away bacteria.
Bladder problems are no joke and, in fact, can contribute to overall feelings of illness. By taking simple steps to ensure your bladder’s health, you significantly decrease the risk of infection as well as other diseases.