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Navigating common bladder issues

Mature woman is talking and laughing with someone out of the frame while she makes dinner at the cooker.

It is estimated that around 14 million people in the UK suffer from bladder problems. For many, these can be embarrassing and debilitating conditions that can have a negative impact on self-esteem and general quality of life.

Sufferers often find the inconvenience and awkwardness associated with these conditions starts to dictate their day-to-day life and takes a toll on their emotional health.

The positive news is that for the majority of people, these problems can be overcome or managed more effectively. In this article, we'll explore key bladder issues every woman should be aware of, and ways to address them.

Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine, which affects 13% of women at some point in their lives (NHS data 2021) and is most prevalent in those aged 60 and over.

There are different types of urinary incontinence, including:

  • Stress incontinence: Experienced by approximately 9 million people in the UK, this is when urine leaks out when your bladder is under pressure – for example coughing, sneezing, laughing and during physical exercise. It can develop during pregnancy, or after childbirth due to the extra strain on the pelvis. Some women may develop it after menopause as hormone changes weaken the pelvic floor.
  • Urge incontinence: This condition causes a sudden and uncontrollable need to pass urine without delay, leading to leakage. Often, there is only a matter of seconds between the need to urinate and the release of urine.

Thankfully, there are ways to effectively manage urinary incontinence, such as pelvic floor exercises, drug treatments, or lifestyle measures such as weight loss that can help. At Benenden Hospital, we also offer the Bulkamid procedure, a urethral bulking water-based gel, or Percutaneous Tibial Nerve Stimulation (PTNS), a nonsurgical treatment option.

Overactive Bladder (OAB)

Symptoms of OAB include a sudden urge to urinate, frequent toilet visits (more than 7-8 times daily), and sometimes not being able to make it to the toilet (urge incontinence). You may also be woken up at night because you need to pass urine. It is not the same condition as urge incontinence, although they often occur together. 

An overactive bladder can be linked to various factors, including aging or a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Our overactive bladder treatment includes undergoing regular Botox injections to reduce over-activity. Patients who find that they need to frequently get up to use the loo at night can also be taught to use a small catheter, to re-train the bladder to empty itself properly.

Interstitial Cystitis (IC) or Bladder Pain Syndrome (BPS)

Interstitial cystitis, also known as ‘bladder pain syndrome’, affects 400,000 people in the UK, 90% of whom are women, and is more common in those over the age of 30.

It’s difficult to diagnose IC due to its range of symptoms, which can be caused by other conditions. These symptoms can be sporadic, and may include:

  • A strong and sudden urge to urinate
  • A need to urinate more frequently than usual
  • Pelvic pain in the lower abdomen
  • Pain when having sex

IC differs from cystitis in that it is not helped by antibiotics, and sufferers only find relief from pain during urination, whereas those with cystitis feel a stinging sensation during urination.

There is no single test to diagnose the condition, with a range of tests required to rule out other possible causes before IC can be diagnosed. Depending on your symptoms, your Consultant may recommend a cystoscopy, urine tests, an ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan, vaginal swabs or a urodynamic assessment – a range of tests to check the function of your bladder and urethra.

There are a variety of treatments available for interstitial cystitis; your consultant may recommend medication, bladder installations or supportive therapies and treatments such as physiotherapy. Lifestyle changes may also improve your symptoms. These can include reducing stress through exercise, warm baths or meditation, improving your hydration, stopping smoking or monitoring and modifying your diet with help from a nutritionist.

If these methods of treatment haven’t been successful, your Consultant may recommend surgery. Read more about these surgical options on our bladder pain syndrome treatment page.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

UTIs affect your urinary tract, including your bladder, urethra or kidneys, and occur when bacteria normally present in the bowel enter your bladder through your urethra. UTIs are common, and 40% of women will be affected at least once in their lifetime.

Certain factors can make it more likely for you to develop a UTI. These include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Having sex
  • Postmenopause
  • Urinary catheters
  • Diabetes
  • A weakened immune system due to another health condition
  • Not drinking enough water

Symptoms may include urinating more urgently or frequently than usual, a burning sensation when urinating, cloudy, smelly or bloodstained urine, tiredness, a high temperature or a low temperature below 36°C.

Some mild UTIs may clear up on their own, typically within a week, but this is uncommon.

If you suspect you have a UTI, see a GP, who may recommend a urine test and may offer a prescription for a short course of antibiotics. The latter may be recommended after a 48-hour wait to see if your symptoms go away on their own.

The most common type of urinary tract infection (UTI) is cystitis, an inflammation of the bladder caused by an infection. Cystitis is common, particularly in women, and is uncomfortable, but rarely serious. Symptoms include frequent urination, pain or burning during urination, and cloudy or strong-smelling urine.

Mild cystitis usually gets better by itself, but occasionally there's a chance it could lead to a more serious kidney infection. It’s important to see a doctor if you don’t get better after a few days.

Don’t suffer in silence

All too often, bladder problems can be dismissed, or a diagnosis delayed due to self-consciousness. Don’t suffer in silence. If your urinary symptoms are getting worse or disrupting your life, seek professional advice sooner rather than later. Frequently, bladder problems can be easily solved, often through simple lifestyle changes.

If you are experiencing bladder issues, you can book a 25-minute face-to-face appointment with one of our private GPs to discuss your symptoms via our online booking tool, LiveChat or by calling us on 01580 363158.

Published on 09 April 2024