Most of us don't give much thought to our bladder function. That is until you develop an inconvenient and potentially embarrassing urinary problem.
While bladder issues may be age-related, you can help prevent some of these conditions and reduce your risk for bladder diseases with diet and behavioral changes.
Can weight cause overactive bladder?
People who suffer from obesity have a higher risk of overactive bladder and stress urinary incontinence. Overactive bladder symptoms include difficulty controlling urination, experiencing a strong urge to urinate that is difficult to delay, and even urine leakage. People with stress urinary incontinence may experience leakage of urine when coughing, laughing, or sneezing.
"In women, obesity has been linked to increased urinary urgency and frequency symptoms," says Dr. Katherine Amin, urology expert at the University of Miami Health System. "While in men, obesity is a risk factor for an enlarged prostate caused by benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH)."
"It's been shown that reducing body weight by only five percent can result in meaningful improvements in bladder symptoms amongst obese individuals," says UHealth urologist Dr. Raveen Syan.
If you have overactive bladder, you can significantly improve the symptoms by avoiding certain types of foods and beverages known to irritate the bladder. This includes avoiding caffeine, carbonated beverages, and spicy foods.
"Exercises that help strengthen the pelvic floor can also reduce bothersome symptoms related to both overactive bladder and stress urinary incontinence," says Dr. Syan.
What's best for your bladder health? It depends on your gender
Establishing good habits can benefit everyone. Yet, men and women have very different pelvic floor anatomy.
It's important to sit in a comfortable position when urinating to allow the pelvic floor muscles to relax completely. That enables the bladder to fully empty. Dr. Amin says, "Women should sit on the toilet seat rather than hover over the seat."
Also, women have a higher likelihood of getting a urinary tract infection (UTI). Wiping from front to back reduces the risk of bacteria from the rectum entering the female urinary tract system and causing an infection.
"Postmenopausal women have decreased estrogen levels, which leads to thinning and atrophy of the vaginal skin. This further increases the risk of developing recurrent urinary tract infections," Dr. Amin says. She recommends a cranberry supplement, which may reduce the risk for UTIs.
Dr. Syan reminds patients that "healthy urinating habits can help everyone ensure a healthy bladder."
Good habits include urinating until you have achieved a sensation of complete bladder emptying.
"As you get older, it may take longer to fully empty your bladder, which can be frustrating. But, being patient reduces the risk of developing problems related to an incompletely emptied bladder, such as infections."
Dietary changes can help improve urinary symptoms in men with an enlarged prostate, a condition that restricts the flow of urine due to benign prostatic hyperplasia, or hypertrophy. A diet rich in vitamin C, (such as bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cauliflower, kale, and tomato) and zinc (such as oysters, crab, duck, lamb, and beef) may even help decrease the risk of BPH.
"However," Dr. Amin says, "there's little evidence that supplements in the form of pills are useful for BPH or lower urinary tract symptoms."
Incontinence, or bladder leakage, affects each person differently.
Symptoms can vary from an occasional leak during strenuous exercise to unintentional gushes of urine on the way to the bathroom. The two most common types of incontinence are stress urinary incontinence and urge urinary incontinence, which is the loss of urine due to a strong and sudden urge to urinate.
Up to one-third of Americans suffer from urinary incontinence, says Dr. Amin. It's not an inevitable part of getting older, however, as lower urinary tract symptoms can affect both men and women of all ages. If you're experiencing some form of incontinence, talk to your primary care provider about your bladder health concerns or make an appointment with a pelvic floor specialist. There are many treatment options and advancements, including behavior modification techniques, medications, and neurological agents that promote bladder muscle relaxation. Treatment is based on the type of leakage and its severity.
Should you drink eight glasses of water each day?
It's true that "water is the best fluid for achieving bladder health," says Dr. Amin. "However, excessive fluid intake can make incontinence worse. Furthermore, limiting water intake during certain times of the day can be helpful in controlling symptoms. For instance, decreasing fluid intake in the evening (hours before bed) can decrease the number of times a person gets up at night to urinate."
If you're concerned about your bladder health, don't assume it's just because you are just getting older. All adults can take charge of their pelvic, vaginal, and urinary tract health, says Dr. Amin.
Another reason to quit smoking
The American Cancer Society estimates that there are 80,470 new cases of bladder cancer (about 61,700 in men and 18,770 in women) in the U.S. — and predicts about 17,670 deaths from this disease this year. Experts at the NCI-designated Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and UHealth work together to improve outcomes for patients.
"Bladder cancer is one of the scariest bladder conditions a person can have," says Dr. Syan.
You can reduce your risk by avoiding or giving up tobacco use (smoking, tobacco chew, and second-hand exposure), she says. "Tobacco use is known to be a major risk factor for the development of bladder cancer. It is never too late to quit to reduce your risks of not only bladder cancer but a variety of serious medical conditions."
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are more common in women than men. More than 50 percent of all women will experience a symptomatic UTI in their lifetimes. Why? Read more.