Ask the Doctor: Bladder Problems

Dr. Emily Cole discusses bladder problems

Dr. Emily Cole, a urologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy, answers frequently asked questions about women’s bladder problems.

Is urinary incontinence a disease?
No, urinary incontinence is a symptom. This means one or more other problems exist that may be causing urinary leakage. Some common bladder and pelvic floor disorders include overactive bladder, stress incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse (POP), urinary tract infections and painful bladder syndrome.

What is stress incontinence?
Stress incontinence occurs when pelvic muscles have been damaged, causing the bladder to leak during exercise, coughing, sneezing, laughing or any body movement which puts pressure on the bladder.

What is urge incontinence?
Urge incontinence, the urgent need to pass urine and the inability to get to the bathroom in time, occurs when nerve passages along the pathway from the bladder to the brain are compromised causing a sudden bladder contraction that cannot be consciously inhibited.

What is overflow incontinence?
Overflow incontinence refers to leakage that occurs when the quantity of urine produced exceeds the volume that the bladder can hold.

What is pelvic organ prolapse?
Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is the bulging, sagging or falling of pelvic organs (i.e., bladder, uterus, rectum or intestine). Prolapse develops slowly, so symptoms may be mild and vague at first, such as pain during sexual intercourse or inability to hold in a tampon. As prolapse progresses symptoms may develop into a feeling that something is protruding from the vagina, a heavy sensation in the vagina or an inability to urinate or have a bowel movement without inserting the fingers into the vagina.

What is a urinary tract infection?
One in five women will have a urinary tract infection in their lifetime. Infections happen when bacteria get into the urethra and travel to the bladder. Symptoms often include a burning sensation when urinating, the urge to urinate without much result, cloudy or reddish urine, strong-smelling urine, a feeling of fullness or pressure above the pubic bone and general malaise. A simple urine test can detect the presence of an infection and a course of antibiotics is all that is needed to treat the problem.

What is painful bladder syndrome?
Inflammation or irritation of the bladder wall, causing pain (most often made worse when the bladder is full), a decrease in the amount of urine the bladder can hold, painful sexual intercourse and a frequent need to urinate.

What are Kegel exercises?
Kegel or pelvic floor muscle exercises are done to strengthen the muscles which support the urethra, bladder, uterus and rectum. There are many benefits of achieving and maintaining good pelvic floor muscle tone including prevention of urinary “dribbling” when coughing, laughing, sneezing or exercising. In addition, it may help to prevent pelvic organ prolapse and the need for surgery.

For More Information
To find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego urologist or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm.

Dr. Emily Cole

About the Expert
Dr. Emily Cole is a board-certified urologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy. She specializes in female pelvic disorders and pelvic floor reconstruction.