What are common bladder problems?
Types of incontinence (when you leak urine) and bladder infections are examples of bladder problems. The most common bladder problems include the following.
- Stress incontinence – you leak urine when you sneeze, cough, or have other sudden pressure on your bladder.
- Overactive bladder – you have a strong urge to pee frequently, including at night. When this causes you to leak urine, it’s known as urge incontinence.
- Overflow incontinence – when a blockage or problem with your bladder muscles means your bladder doesn’t empty properly. This can lead to leaking urine. It can also cause other problems, like bladder stones.
- Nocturnal polyuria – your body makes more urine than normal during the night. This means that you may need to keep getting up at night to pee.
- Cystitis – a urinary tract infection (UTI) that affects your bladder. If you have cystitis, it may hurt or burn when you pee. You may need to pee more often than usual too.
- Interstitial cystitis (or painful bladder syndrome) – a condition causing pain in your bladder area. You’ll also have other symptoms, like needing to pee often.
Why do bladder problems increase as you age?
We know that people get more problems with their bladder as they get older, but why is that? Natural changes that happen in your body as you age – like muscles in your pelvis weakening – make all types of incontinence more likely.
You’re also more likely to have other health issues and conditions, which can affect your bladder. For example, if you have a prostate gland, this can become enlarged as you age and cause bladder problems.
Your risk of bladder infections also increases as you get older. This may be linked to incontinence and not being able to empty your bladder fully. Changes in hormone levels that happen during menopause can also increase the risk of UTIs.
How do you keep your bladder healthy?
Here’s a list of 10 things you can do to help keep your bladder healthy.
- Keep hydrated. You don’t want to drink too much – this can contribute to incontinence and needing to pee overnight. But also don’t try to limit your fluid intake, as this may increase risk of a urinary tract infection.
- Limit your intake of caffeine, fizzy drinks, and alcohol. These drinks may make you want to pee more often and more urgently.
- Maintain a healthy weight and lose excess weight when needed. This can help to prevent incontinence.
- Practise pelvic floor exercises. Pelvic floor muscle exercises may help with incontinence. To do these, you tighten the muscles around your back passage and genitals and hold it for up to 10 seconds. It should feel as if you’re trying to stop passing wind and urine. A doctor or physiotherapist can give you more advice.
- If you smoke, it’s a good idea to give up smoking. Smoking can increase the risk of incontinence.
- Reduce constipation by making sure you follow a healthy diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, and wholegrains. This can help to prevent stress incontinence.
- Go to the toilet as soon you need to pee – don’t try to hold on. If you delay, it can increase the risk of infection and incontinence.
- Wipe from front to back after a poo, if you have female sex organs. This avoids spreading bacteria from your back passage to your urethra, which could cause an infection.
- Go for a pee and try to empty your bladder as soon as possible after having sex. This can help to prevent infections.
- If you have a vagina, avoid using products such as wipes or deodorants around your genital area, and don’t ‘douche’ (wash out your vagina). This prevents washing away ‘good’ bacteria, which helps to prevent infection.
When should I seek professional help?
You can try some of the measures in the section above to help reduce incontinence. But also talk to your doctor to arrange assessment.
Bladder infections will often clear up on their own without medical treatment. You can help yourself by drinking plenty of fluids and taking regular painkillers. But see a doctor if your symptoms aren’t improving within 48 hours, or they start to get worse.
Seek help for a bladder infection straight away if you’re pregnant, have a long-term health condition or a weakened immune system.
And if you have blood in your pee, it’s important to contact a doctor straight away.
Remember: you don’t need to suffer in silence with bladder problems. Although they may be more likely as you get older, they’re not just a normal part of ageing. There’s lots you can do to help prevent problems, and deal with them when they happen.