Managing bladder problems
"As a conservative estimate there are around 14 million people in the UK today with some form of bladder problem. This figure means there are more people suffering with bladder problems than with asthma, diabetes and epilepsy put together."
Not all bladder problems cause incontinence . Symptoms of urinary urgency and frequency cause just as many problems on a day to day basis - and an assessment by a specialist nurse can greatly improve a patient’s quality of life.
If you get sudden urges to go to the toilet to pass urine, which are difficult to ignore, you could be suffering from an overactive bladder
The most common symptoms are listed below:
- A sudden urge to go to the toilet to pass urine – urgency
- Not getting to the toilet in time to pass urine – urge incontinence
- Needing to go to the toilet to pass urine very often (more than seven times a day) – frequency
- Getting up to go to the toilet to pass urine during the night – nocturia
Remember – an overactive bladder is not an inevitable part of ageing.
Stress Urinary Incontinence
Stress urinary incontinence is defined as a sudden unintentional loss of urine during normal day to day activities. If you have this problem you may notice leakage if you laugh, cough, sneeze, walk, exercise, or lift something.
It is extremely common and there are approximately nine million people in the UK experiencing some form of stress incontinence. It can affect women and men of all ages, although it is more common among women. Stress urinary incontinence is not related to psychological stress. It normally occurs when the muscles in the pelvic floor or sphincter have been damaged or weakened.Some women develop stress urinary incontinence after the menopause. This is because the pelvic floor becomes weaker following hormone changes within the body. The main treatment for stress incontinence is pelvic floor exercises. Surgery to tighten or support the bladder outlet can also help.
Men can develop stress incontinence after radical surgery for prostate cancer.
Pelvic floor muscle exercises
Both men and women have pelvic floor muscles.
They are made up of layers of muscles which hold the bladder and bowel in place and help to stop urine leaks. The sphincter is a circular muscle that goes around the urethra (the tube that urine comes out of) and squeezes as the bladder fills up to create a seal so that urine can’t leak out. In women, these muscles can be weakened during pregnancy by the extra weight and natural hormonal changes. Childbirth can cause more problems especially if delivery is prolonged or the baby is large
Pelvic floor muscle exercises are key in helping you to manage your bladder symptoms
There are a number of things that you can do to try and maintain a healthy bladder. These include:
Maintaining a healthy fluid intake: try to drink at least 1.5 – 2 litres (six - eight glasses) of fluid each day ( increasing during hot weather). When you are not drinking enough, the bladder gets used to holding smaller amounts of urine and can become overly sensitive.
What can irritate the bladder?
- Drinks that contain caffeine
- Fizzy drinks, especially the “lite” or “diet” types with artificial sweeteners like aspartame or saccharine
- Alcoholic drinks – especially shorts – can irritate the bladder
- The acid in some fruit juices can make problems worse for some people
- Some medication
Avoiding constipation and following a healthy diet: when the bowel does not empty properly it will swell up and push down onto the bladder. You can help avoid constipation by following a healthy diet.
Practising regular pelvic floor exercises.
Maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight can also make your bladder problems worse. Extra weight may put pressure on the pelvic floor muscles which can become weak and may result in stress urinary incontinence.
It is important to have your symptoms assessed by a health professional, so don’t be embarrassed – ask your GP to refer you to a continence specialist nurse for assessment and treatment.
Symptoms of urinary urgency and frequency cause just as many problems on a day to day basis - and an assessment by a specialist nurse can greatly improve a patient’s quality of life.
Jan Chaseley, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Continence Care