Although bladder problems are not likely to come up over brunch with friends, they are more common in women than you might think. Whether it’s leakage when you sneeze or chronic urinary tract infections, many women deal with challenges related to their bladder health. 

So how do you know if what you’re experiencing is normal or cause for concern? Here are some of the more common bladder issues women have, along with six tips for a healthier bladder. 

Common Bladder Issues 

Overactive bladder. A frequent or urgent need to urinate might mean you have an overactive bladder. In one large study that randomly surveyed people about bladder health, nearly 17 percent of women reported experiencing overactive bladder symptoms. 

Bladder leakage. Many women are unable to exercise, pick up their children or even laugh without leaking. This is called stress urinary incontinence, and it happens when the muscles of the pelvic floor are not working properly. About one in three women will suffer from stress urinary incontinence at some point. The more children a woman has, the more likely she is to be affected. 

Urinary tract infections (UTIs). These are common, especially among young women, as well as those who are in perimenopause or menopause. In younger women, there is a connection between sexual activity and UTIs, since sex can bring bacteria closer to the urethra. For perimenopausal and menopausal women, changes in vaginal pH caused by lower estrogen levels can allow the growth of infection-causing bacteria. 

Tips for a Healthier Bladder 

Fortunately, lifestyle tweaks can help many common bladder symptoms. Here are some ways to maintain a healthy bladder. 

1. Keep stress in check 

When you’re stressed, the muscles in your pelvic floor tense up, which can lead to dysfunction. Finding ways to lower stress — by using a meditation app, learning some simple breathing exercises or simply curling up with a good book — may help the muscles of your pelvic floor relax. 

2. Consider preventive medicine 

For young women who get chronic UTIs, it may be worth talking to a healthcare provider about taking a preventive dose of an antibiotic around the time of intercourse. Older women, whose UTIs may be hormone-related, can use an estrogen cream to help balance their vaginal pH. 

Cranberry tablets can also be helpful for women of all ages, since a compound in cranberries prevents bacteria from sticking to the urethra. Just avoid cranberry juice, which is generally very high in added sugar and not as potent as tablets. 

3. Avoid bladder irritants 

Can’t seem to pinpoint the cause of your bladder issues? It might be something you’re eating or drinking. Common bladder irritants include: 

  • Coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages 

  • Spicy foods and condiments like wasabi 

  • Citrus fruit and juice 

  • Acidic foods, like tomatoes 

  • Soda, sparkling water and other carbonated beverages 

4. Stay hydrated 

Water helps flush bacteria and irritants from the bladder, so make sure you’re getting enough. The recommended amount of fluid you should drink every day varies according to circumstances like age, gender and activity level, but experts advise using the color of your urine as a guide. If it’s pale yellow, you’re well hydrated; if it’s dark and concentrated, you need more fluids. 

5. Care for your pelvic floor 

For women who have bladder problems after childbirth, a physical therapist can help rehabilitate the muscles of the pelvic floor. 

You can also try an exercise called a Kegel, which strengthens the pelvic floor muscles. Follow these steps:

  • Sit comfortably and squeeze the pelvic floor muscles 10 to 15 times. This is not the same as contracting your glutes. You can practice identifying those muscles by starting and stopping your stream when you urinate.

  • Don’t hold your breath or tighten your stomach muscles, glutes or thighs at the same time.

  • When you get used to this movement, try holding the squeeze for a few seconds between each repetition.

6. Don’t hold it for too long 

When you gotta go, you gotta go, and you should be going every three or four hours. Don’t hold your urine as this can lead to the weakening of the bladder muscles and cause bladder dysfunction, which can lead to kidney failure. Over time, holding your urine causes strain on the bladder. 

Holding urine also can increase your risk of developing UTIs, as the number of bacteria in your urine can increase the longer you hold it. 

When to See Your Doctor 

If you’re experiencing symptoms like pain or burning while urinating, leaking urine, a sudden need to urinate more than usual or bloody/cloudy urine, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and determine treatment.

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