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Given that bladder weakness affects 1 in 4 women and can happen at any age, you'd think they would teach us about it at school
Certainly, if they did, then most of us seem to have missed that lesson! Here's a reminder of how the bladder or urinary system works and why sometimes it doesn't quite work perfectly.
The role of your kidneys is to filter unneeded substances from the bloodstream and send them to the bladder - a muscular bag that can stretch to hold up to 500ml when full. At half full, nerves tell the brain that it's time to urinate and urine passes down the urethra, which is kept closed by two sphincter muscles. The inner sphincter will open when the bladder is full but the outer sphincter muscle can be voluntarily held shut to maintain control over urination. It's the job of the pelvic floor muscles, which lie beneath the bladder and around the urethra, to keep them working correctly. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 8 men experiences an interruption to this process at some time in their lives.
Weak Pelvic Floor Muscles?In the majority of cases, bladder weakness is caused by a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles that keep the urethra closed. Whenever they lose their elasticity, everyday activities such as laughing, coughing, lifting and running can cause a leak. However, they can be strengthened again - visit the exercise area to find helpful information about pelvic floor exercises. For women in particular, the main causes of bladder weakness result from the changes that take place during pregnancy, childbirth and menopause.
Are you a mother?
The joys of motherhood are many (despite those first sleepless nights,), but pregnancy and childbirth put your body through all kinds of changes, both hormonal and physical. Bladder weakness is therefore a very common side effect of pregnancy or childbirth. The combination of hormonal changes, pressure on the bladder from the womb, and the exertions of childbirth itself can all reduce the efficiency of the pelvic muscles.
Bladder weakness can occur during, or soon after, pregnancy and even - for some women - long after their children have grown up. For those who experience it around pregnancy, it's often a temporary condition. Many women have seen real improvements by using the pelvic floor exercises.
Have you experienced the menopause?
Several physical and hormonal changes occur with the menopause. In particular, there's a reduction in the quantity of oestrogen within the abdominal muscles. This can cause a shift in the position of the bladder, reducing the effectiveness of the muscles that hold it closed.
Tips and advice for dealing with bladder weakness
The first step is to look and see if a few simple, lifestyle changes can make a positive difference.
You may be tempted to reduce the amount of fluid you drink, but this can make your urine more concentrated, aggravating the bladder and making it more active. We recommend that you drink as normal, responding to your natural thirst. This should be enough to keep the urine a healthy, pale straw colour. As you might expect, drinking too much will just increase the urge to 'go' so just try and keep a healthy balance.
Life is for living and bladder weakness should never force you to curb your pleasures! However, you need to be aware that caffeine, alcohol and fizzy drinks are diuretics, which will make you visit the toilet more.
There is a link between being overweight and bladder weakness. So, if you have ambitions to slim down a bit, this might be an incentive to start.
If you're a smoker
Actually it's not the smoking itself that causes bladder weakness, but the associated coughing that can put pressure on the bladder. So perhaps that's another reason to think about quitting?
Exercising (without the sweat)
Bladder control can often be improved by Pelvic Floor Exercises, so this kind of physiotherapy is generally regarded as the first treatment for Stress Incontinence. In fact, up to 70% of mild to moderate cases can be improved or even cured by regular and correct Pelvic Floor Exercises over 3 to 6 months. Pelvic Floor Exercise have also been found to help in some cases of Urge Incontinence.
But remember, you have to keep up the exercise to make the effects last: these exercises work by re-establishing control over the muscles that keep the urethra shut. And it's never too late to start - even in your 70s and 80s you could improve your symptoms! A specialist may recommend techniques such as Biofeedback and electrical stimulation to help carry out these exercises properly.
Don't let bladder weakness hold you back
You can't function properly if you're worried about leaks and odours, so make sure you've got the right bladder weakness protection for your needs and you can get rid of those worries right away. Then you'll see there's absolutely no need to cut back on pleasurable activities like going to the cinema, having picnics with the family or playing golf the whole day long.
If you are worried about experiencing leaks or wetness, you may be using the wrong type of bladder weakness protection or the wrong size for your needs. Make life easy on yourself - use the right tool for the job.
Where physiotherapy/bladder retraining is not the answer, there are certain other options the doctor may consider. The insertion of a catheter with a portable drainage bag may be a temporary measure, particularly if your bladder weakness is the result of other surgery from which you are recuperating.
The most commonly used medical devices are absorbent bladder weakness products. They are specially designed to protect against urine leakage and odours, and come in a range of sizes and absorbency levels.
Drugs and surgery
In some countries there are prescription drugs used for the treatment of Stress Incontinence and in some cases your urologist or urogynaecologist may consider surgical procedures. For details on these it is best to consult a continence specialist or urologist. There are some medicines that can help reduce the bladder's over activity (Urge Incontinence), but surgical solutions are rare. For details on medication it is best to consult a continence specialist or urologist.
About the study
NetDoctor and Tena Lady are currently carrying out a research study designed to look at how bladder weakness products might improve an individual's condition and as a result reduce its impact on daily activities. Visitors who meet the requirements of the study can receive free samples, alternatively there is a 50p off voucher.
All participants can enter a draw to win a £200 worth of M&S vouchers. For more information or to take the survey, please go to http://tena.netdoctor.co.uk/
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