More than 40 percent of women will experience at least one urinary tract infection (UTI) in their lifetimes. However, UTIs aren’t the only bladder issue that is of concern. Read on to learn more about UTIs, incontinence and bladder health at every age.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
When bacteria gets into the urethra and bladder and remains there, it can cause redness, swelling, pain and infection. If not treated, a urinary tract or bladder infection can spread to the kidneys, causing high fever, chills and fatigue. Kidney infections can be life-threatening if the infection enters the bloodstream. Therefore, it’s vital that you receive prompt medical treatment. Your primary care physician, gynecologist or a urologist can diagnose a UTI. If you have frequent or long-lasting UTIs, or see blood in your urine, see a urologist as soon as possible.
Women who are pregnant and those with diabetes are more likely to get urinary tract infections. If you do not drink enough fluids, you might also be at risk for UTIs. To help prevent UTIs, drink eight glasses of water each day, don’t hold in your urine when you have to go, and clean your vaginal area — particularly before and after sex.
Read more about UTIs: What you should know >>
Urinary tract infections can lead to incontinence — involuntary loss of urine. However, they aren’t the only cause of urinary incontinence, often referred to as “overactive bladder.”
“Up to 50 percent of women middle-aged and older have urinary incontinence. However, it is important to remember that, while it is common, it is not a normal part of aging,” says Elizabeth R. Mueller, MD, MSME, FACS, Medical Director of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at Loyola University Health System. “Risk factors associated with urinary incontinence include advancing age, being overweight, childbirth, neuromuscular diseases (stroke, back injuries, multiple sclerosis) and pelvic surgeries.”
Approximately 90 percent of incontinence issues are stress incontinence or urgency incontinence. “Stress urinary incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine with coughing, laughing or sneezing. Stress urinary incontinence can also occur with any activity that increases someone’s intra-abdominal pressures (i.e. lifting, bending, etc.),” explains urogynecologist Mary South, MD of University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center. “Urge urinary incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine accompanied by a sense of urgency. Patient’s will often describe a sudden urge to void and will not be able to make it to the bathroom in time before they leak urine on themselves.”
Keep in mind
Though urinary incontinence is more common in women over 60, it affects people of all ages. Approximately 30 percent of pregnant women experience urinary incontinence, which can continue after delivery. Fortunately, incontinence is very treatable.
Coping with incontinence
Pads such as Poise can help absorb urine leakage while you are pursuing lifestyle changes and medical treatments to help with overall bladder health and prevent or improve urinary incontinence.
“Many foods in the diet are triggers for urgency and urge leakage. Avoiding acidic foods that can irritate the bladder is a vital recommendation. These foods include coffees and teas (even decaffeinated), carbonated beverages, alcohol, chocolate, tomatoes and acidic fruit juices like orange and grapefruit juice,” says Lisa N. Hawes, MD, urologist with Chesapeake Urology Associates in the Baltimore area. “You should also stop smoking — tobacco can interfere with bladder control and is the leading cause of bladder cancer. Pelvic floor exercises like the Kegel exercises, Pilates and yoga will help improve core body strength and decrease leakage as well.”
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“Treatments are based on the cause and may include conservative approaches such as physical therapy, behavior modification, vaginal pessaries, timed urination and moderation of fluid intake,” says Mueller. “There are drugs that may be used for urinary leakage associated with a strong urge to urinate. Other therapies include surgical treatments such as urethra slings, urethral bulking agents and the implantation of a bladder pacemaker. Novel therapies such as a botulisum toxin in the bladder are being used in women with severe forms of urinary incontinence due to neurologic diseases such as multiple sclerosis. There is no single treatment option that works for every woman and a specialist can help you determine the procedure that is appropriate for you.”
Serious bladder conditions
“When bladder leakage develops very quickly (over a couple months) or is associated with changes in movement, this may be a sign of neurological disease. Sometimes a woman may have a new onset of bladder leakage that is also associated with seeing blood in the urine. This may represent a mass in the bladder and can be easily diagnosed often at the first visit with a healthcare provider who specializes in urinary leakage problems in women,” explains Mueller.
Blood in the urine is the most common sign of bladder cancer. Early bladder cancer however is not usually fatal, so prompt detect is essential. If a tumor is found, surgery is performed and a pathologist examines the tumor. When cancer is found, a patient has a variety of treatment options depending on how deeply the tumor had penetrated the bladder wall. Bladder cancer treatments include surgery, radiation, immunotherapy and chemotherapy, whether alone or in any combination.
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Another common bladder problem is interstitial cystitis (IC). This is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the bladder. It feels like a bladder infection; however, no bacteria are involved. People with IC may experience frequent urination, bladder pain (especially when the bladder is full), pain during sex and other symptoms. IC is 10 times more common in women than in men, and, according to UrologyHealth.org, it’s estimated that as many as 700,000 women in the U.S. may have IC. Though IC is not considered curable, a number of treatments may significantly reduce the symptoms including medications and changes in diet.
No matter your bladder issues, it’s important to visit your doctor at the onset of symptoms to find the right treatment for you.