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Improve your bladder health for improved quality of life

By The Health News Team | November 14, 2023
Woman on toilet

“To pee or not to pee – that is the question.” It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it’s something you should consider if you’re aiming for good bladder health.

The bladder is a hollow, spherical-shaped organ that holds the urine produced by the kidneys. While all internal organs are integral to good health, poor bladder health can affect your overall quality of life — from your ability to comfortably exercise, to your quality of sleep and sex life.

“Urinary conditions are extremely prevalent and affect millions of women,” says Dr. Stephen Unterberg, a urologist with Sharp Community Medical Group. “But few seek medical help. However, there are many treatment options available for these conditions, with some having over 85% chance of success.”

Causes of incontinence

According to Dr. Unterberg, there are different forms of incontinence. The two most common are urge urinary incontinence from an overactive bladder and stress urinary incontinence due to weakened pelvic floor support.

A range of factors place women at risk of incontinence, including age, weight, menopausal status, and a history of pregnancy and childbirths. Some foods and beverages are also known to make the bladder more overactive, which can worsen incontinence.

“Due to the caffeine and diuretic properties of coffee and tea, these drinks can worsen incontinence,” Dr. Unterberg says. “Your bladder can also be irritated by acidic foods, such as citrus, as well as by chocolate, spicy foods and alcohol.”

How to treat incontinence

Conversely, Dr. Unterberg says, there are foods that are soothing to the bladder. These include leafy vegetables and complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, barley, buckwheat oats and wild rice.

Other natural or nonsurgical incontinence remedies include:

  • Improved planning around when, what and how much you drink, known as fluid management

  • Following a urination schedule, whether or not you feel the urge to urinate, known as bladder retraining

  • Pelvic floor physical therapy, which can include exercises, hands-on therapy, biofeedback therapy, or electrical stimulation of the pelvic floor muscles to strengthen or relax the pelvic floor muscles

Clinical remedies can include medications, procedures or surgeries, depending on the cause of incontinence. Most procedures to help improve incontinence due to pelvic floor weakness address the urethra, where urine leaves your body, Dr. Unterberg says. These include a sling procedure or an injection of a bulking agent, such as a hydrogel. However, these would not help leakage due to urge urinary incontinence from an overactive bladder.

Additionally, Dr. Unterberg advises that some procedures have better long-term results. These include:

  • Percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation, when the nerves responsible for bladder control are stimulated, leading to decreased urgency to urinate

  • Intravesical Botox, an injection of Botox into the bladder wall muscles to calm overactive bladder muscles

  • Sacral neuromodulation, which provides electrical stimulation to the nerves that run through the tailbone to the bladder to improve bladder overactivity and incontinence

Tips to keep your bladder healthy

In general, to help avoid incontinence and maintain your bladder health, Dr. Unterberg recommends you:

  • Use the bathroom often and when needed, allowing for the normal filling and emptying of the bladder.

  • Relax your muscles while urinating to prevent urination difficulties.

  • Take enough time to fully empty your bladder when urinating to decrease the frequency of needing to urinate and to potentially help reduce your risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs).

  • Wipe from front to back after using the toilet to help prevent transfer of bowel bacteria to the vagina and urethra and to help reduce the risk of UTIs.

  • Urinate after sex, which may help prevent UTIs.

  • Do pelvic floor muscle exercises to help decrease overactive bladder symptoms and urinary incontinence — including leakage during coughing, sneezing or laughing — due to weakening of the pelvic floor support.

When to seek care

If you experience urinary problems, Dr. Unterberg urges you to talk with your doctor about a treatment plan. Together, you can go over all your available options and discuss follow-up plans to ensure your treatment is effective.

“Quite commonly, patients give up if the first treatment is unsuccessful,” Dr. Unterberg says. “But with persistence and the understanding that other options exist, typically we can find a solution that provides real benefit to a patient’s quality of life.”

Successfully treating bladder conditions, Dr. Unterberg stresses, is vital. Effective treatment can relieve a patient of anxiety, allow them to enjoy a good night’s sleep, and even improve sexual relations.

“A healthy bladder contributes to over all good health,” he says.

Learn more about women’s health; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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