November is Bladder Health Awareness Month, and while it might not be something women bring up in conversation, many women suffer from bothersome urinary symptoms. These symptoms include urine leakage, frequent need to urinate and recurrent bladder infections. Luckily, there are things that you can do at home to improve your bladder health without prescription medications or surgeries.
Frequent Need to Urinate
If you need to urinate frequently (every two hours or less) or find yourself leaking urine when you have the urge to go, your symptoms may improve with fluid management and dietary changes. Try not to drink more than eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid daily (64 ounces total). If you feel like you need more fluids than that, check with your primary care doctor, as some medical conditions can increase your thirst. Limit caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and iced or hot tea, to one serving per day. Avoid alcohol, carbonated beverages and artificial sweeteners (which are found in beverages labeled “diet”).
Try to drink smaller amounts of fluids throughout the day, so that your bladder is not overwhelmed by large volumes of fluid all at once. For example, if you tend to drink three to four glasses of water at dinner and not much throughout the day, try bringing a water bottle to work with you and stretching that amount out over the afternoon.
You can also train your bladder to urinate less frequently, although this can take some dedication. If you urinate every half hour, try increasing the time between bathroom breaks by 15 minutes. Do this for a week, than increase by another 15 minutes, with an ultimate goal of holding your bladder for two to three hours between voids.
Stress Urinary Incontinence
Leakage of urine with cough, sneeze, laughter and exercise (stress urinary incontinence or SUI) can be improved with Kegel exercises. To perform a Kegel exercise, squeeze the pelvic muscles as if trying to prevent yourself from passing gas. Hold for a count of 5 and relax for a count of 10. Repeat 15 times and do this twice a day. Another way of improving SUI if you’re overweight is weight loss. Studies have shown that a 10% weight loss can significantly improve stress leakage. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds that would mean a 20 pound weight loss goal.
Waking Up at Night
If you’re mostly bothered by waking up at night to urinate, cut back on fluids before bed, especially alcohol. Also, if you notice swelling in your legs at the end of the day, elevate your legs for an hour before bed to help get the fluid out of your legs and back into circulation. This may help you wake up less at night to urinate. If you’re on a water pill at night (diuretic such as hydrochlorothiazide or Lasix), ask your primary care doctor if you can take it in the morning instead.
Finally, if you snore, talk to your primary care doctor about a sleep study. If you already have a diagnosis of sleep apnea, use your CPAP as directed. Sleep apnea causes an increase in a hormone which tells your body it needs to get rid of fluid, leading to night-time bathroom breaks.
Frequent Urinary Tract Infections
Frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common problem in women. While studies have not definitively shown that wiping front to back after using the bathroom or urinating after sex can cut back on infections, it’s still a good idea to stick to these common-sense interventions.
While it can sometimes be a challenge depending on your job, try to make a point of urinating every three hours or so. Holding your bladder for too long can increase your risk of infection. Also, over-the-counter supplements such as probiotics and cranberry supplements (not cranberry juice) may help prevent infections. If you have already gone through menopause, talk to your primary care doctor or OB/GYN about vaginal estrogen. This cream, when applied twice a week, decreases the risk of UTIs in postmenopausal women.
Finally don’t start smoking, and if you do smoke, talk to your primary care doctor about ways to quit. Smoking causes cancer-causing chemicals to be released into your urine and is the most important known risk factor for bladder cancer. In fact, smoking increases your risk of bladder cancer three to four times above that of non-smokers. Quitting isn’t easy, but it’s one of the most important things you can do for your health, bladder or otherwise. If you see blood in your urine, tell your doctor! This may be an early sign of bladder cancer.
If you have any of the above problems and don’t see improvement with lifestyle changes, talk to your doctor about a referral to us at Regional Urology to discuss other ways to treat your symptoms.