What you can do about a weak bladder

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Watch the video above for a great Pilates exercise to help improve bladder control.

Many women over the age of 30 have had a moment or two when their bladder has had a mind of its own.

Although not many of the two million Australian women with an occasionally weak bladder like to talk about it, it's as much a part of being a woman as having a baby or going through the menopause — both of which can directly affect the bladder.

Women experience two main types of bladder weakness. One is caused by bodily stresses such as sneezing, laughing and coughing, and the other is when there is an intense need to visit the toilet. Doctors call this "urge incontinence".

Why does my bladder react like this?
Sometimes an intense desire to urinate can be caused by a urinary tract infection such as cystitis. You'll probably know if you suffer from cystitis, as symptoms often include a stinging sensation when you urinate and sometimes a little blood in the urine. You should always check with your doctor even if you've had cystitis before, as urinary tract infections can manifest themselves in different ways — normally all it will take is a course of antibiotics to clear it up, and with it the bladder weakness.

There are other causes of bladder weakness, however. The doctor will check if there is a nerve control abnormality — it can happen, but it is rare. Much more common is an irritation of the bladder caused by too much caffeine and certain other foods — and especially if you're a young mum, constantly grabbing coffee on the go.

Most common causes

  • Weakened and stretched pelvic floor muscles (sometimes resulting in prolapse) from pregnancy and childbirth
  • Thinning and drying of the skin in the vagina or urethra, especially after menopause
  • Certain medicines
  • Constipation
  • Being overweight
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vascular disease
  • Diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis

How can I make my bladder stronger?
The obvious answer is, if there's no urinary tract infection involved, to cut down on the amount of caffeine you drink in coffee and colas. As alcohol is also a diuretic (ie makes you pass water), it is better to cut down on it or avoid it entirely. Some studies have also shown a link between urge "incontinence" and citrus fruits, spicy foods, artificial sweeteners, milk products and fruit and vegetables that contain lycopene (strawberries, tomatoes, rhubarb etc). Keep a diary of what you've consumed and your toilet habits — eliminate one food at a time for seven to ten days and see if there is an improvement.

Keeping regular bowel movements and maintaining a healthy weight also prevent pressure building up on the bladder — make sure to eat 30 grams of fibre each day and it will help with both goals. Other things you can do include stopping smoking and altering any medications that you're on (in conjunction with advice from your doctor) as these may affect your bladder.

You can also carry out Kegel exercises which are movements of the pelvic floor — through this movement the muscles strengthen and may help to prevent those occasional "spillages". Try these for three to six months — most women with mild to moderate bladder weakness find that they really help.

Many women also find that specially designed absorbent pads, similar in size and shape to sanitary pads, are just the thing to help them put bladder incidents into perspective and get on with their lives. Visit Poise.com.au for more info.

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