Can we talk? Bladder health is a topic that is rarely discussed, but is something that we are all affected by. Each day, adults pass about a quart and a half of urine through the bladder and out of the body1. As people get older, the bladder changes. This could mean more bladder infections, urinary incontinence, and urinary tract infections. As we age, the capacity of the bladder reduces, and it becomes more “reactive,” meaning that when the urge comes on, it’s very sudden, and can feel very strong. People with aging bladders may also experience incontinence, increased frequency of urination, and may get up more at night to go to the bathroom. Overactive bladder affects an estimated 40 percent of women, according to the Urology Care Foundation2. Let’s take a look at your urinary system, and how it normally operates.
How Your Urinary System Functions
We are just going to start with a basic refresher on how your urinary tract works, so that we are all on the same page. Your kidneys produce urine, which is stored in the bladder. The bladder is relaxed when it is empty, but when it gets full, nerve signals in your brain make you feel like you need to urinate. Then, when it is actually time to urinate, your brain signals your bladder muscles to contract, forcing urine out of your urethra. When your urinary system is functioning normally, you can usually hold off on urinating for a while. But when we age, our neurological signaling changes, affecting our ability to delay things3.
With an overactive bladder, you may experience incontinence, or accidental urination. This happens when the brain isn’t processing signals well enough to inhibit the bladder muscle contraction, and the bladder empties involuntarily. The bladder’s capacity also changes with aging too. Your capacity can go from holding 500 cc of urine in your 20s and 30s, to 200 cc (5-7 oz) in your 50s4. While these changes are normal with aging and the body’s shifts over time, it doesn’t mean that you’re destined to suffer from bladder issues. Here are some tips you can follow, to keep your bladder as healthy and high functioning as possible.
Top Bladder Health Tips
- Drink water! For the most part, everyone should be trying to drink six to eight, 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Water really is the best fluid for bladder health.
- Use the bathroom often and when needed. Holding urine in your bladder for too long can weaken your bladder muscles and make a bladder infection more likely.
- Do pelvic floor exercises. Have you ever heard of Kegel exercises? These are exercises that men and women can do to that help strengthen the muscles that hold urine in your bladder. Daily exercises can strengthen these muscles, which can help urine from leaking when you sneeze, cough, or laugh.
- Wipe front to back. Wipe front to back after using the toilet, especially women, to keep bacteria from getting into the urethra, which can lead to infection.
How to Keep UTIs at Bay
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common types of infection in older adults, especially women (though men can get them too!). UTIs often result when urine pools in the bladder, making it the perfect spot for bacteria to grow. Pooling may be caused by an obstructed urinary flow – from an enlarged prostate in a man or a descended bladder in a woman5. Or a UTI can happen if “bad” bacteria cling to the urethra and find their way into the bladder. There are a few things you can do, though, that may help to ward off UTIs. The first is to invest in a quality probiotic geared towards urinary tract health. Probiotics contain certain colonies of “good” bacteria, and some evidence suggests that probiotics may help prevent UTIs by keeping “bad” bacteria from growing in the vagina. It is even better if the probiotics contains cranberry, for reasons you’ll see bulleted below. Make sure that the probiotic contains 100% cranberry fruit extract, and doesn’t use any solvents, preservatives, sugar, water, or added flavorings. Also try to consume more of these foods below:
- Cranberries: These may help prevent UTIs by keeping bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract
- Foods containing Vitamin C: This can help make the urine more acidic, which may prevent bacteria from growing.
If you’re having troubling controlling your bladder, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help diagnose the cause of your symptoms, discuss treatment options, and ultimately help you regain control of your bladder.