Updated: Dec 2, 2021
We don't really think much about our bladder, until it stops doing its job. And your bladder has a very important one! Actually two: storing urine, and emptying urine. These functions may sound simple, but we all know how miserable we can feel if something goes wrong with either one.
Functions of the Bladder
Problems with this function can look like:
The urge to urinate often, which causes running to the bathroom frequently
Bladder urgency, making it difficult to make it to the bathroom in time
"Key in the door" syndrome—when you arrive home and put your key in the door, you all of a sudden have a strong urge to urinate and have to run!
Waking up at night and having to pee
Leaking when you cough, sneeze, yell, play with your kids, exercise, or get up from a chair after sitting awhile
Pain or discomfort with a full bladder
Problems with this function can look like:
Slow emptying of your bladder—this may make you try to push or strain to empty it faster (not a good habit!), or it may just take a long time to fully empty
Incomplete emptying of your bladder, which can then make you have to go more frequently
Pain during and/or after emptying your bladder—common causes of this can include bladder infections, and something called painful bladder syndrome and interstitial cystitis
So what can one do to help avoid the above scenarios? Give the below tips a try!
10 Tips for a Healthy Bladder
1. Drink enough water
We've all heard this before, but that's because it is so important. Remember, our bladder is an organ that needs fluid running through it regularly in order to function optimally. Just like our muscles need exercise, our bladder needs healthy fuel (i.e., liquids, usually water) on a regular basis to function in tip top shape. Click here for more tips from Mayo Clinic on drinking water.
2. Limit the intake of drinks (and foods) that can irritate the bladder
This is especially important if you have symptoms of discomfort or pain with a full bladder, or during/after urinating. These include drinks with caffeine and/or carbonation, drinks that are acidic, as well as alcoholic drinks. Water is best! I know, boring, but true... Some acidic fruits, like oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes and some fruit juices, can also irritate your bladder, according to Mayo Clinic. Your goal is to have calm, dilute urine running through your bladder, as concentrated urine can irritate the delicate bladder lining and contribute to bladder discomfort and pain.
3. Stop smoking
Even your bladder is not happy with you when you smoke; smoking can irritate the bladder lining, causing you to go more frequently; and did you know that smoking is the most important risk factor for bladder cancer? According to the American Cancer Society, "smokers are at least 3 times as likely to get bladder cancer as non-smokers, and smoking causes about half of all bladder cancers in both men and women." And if that's not enough to make you quit, remember that all the coughing associated with smoking can cause trouble with the storing function of the bladder (i.e., you leak more).
4. Avoid Constipation
Not only can a full bowel push against your bladder and inhibit good bladder emptying, but chronic straining because of constipation can also strain and overstretch your pelvic floor muscles—not helpful in our quest to have a powerful core!
5. Maintain a healthy weight
Did you know that women who are overweight or obese are at more risk for incontinence? The extra weight can put pressure on the bladder and on our pelvic floor muscles, making it difficult to stay dry. The great news is that according to this study, modest weight loss can help; overweight and obese women who lose 5-10% of their weight experience an approximately 70% reduction in stress incontinence.
6. Strengthen your pelvic floor muscles if they are weak
Weak pelvic floor muscles, as we discuss here, can allow urine to slip past with coughing, sneezing, lifting, exercising, etc. Weakness can also contribute to difficulty getting to the bathroom in time for some people.
7. Use the bathroom moderately—not too often, not too infrequently
Like most things in life, moderation is key. "Normal" voiding frequency is generally agreed to be every 2-4 hours, and 6-8 times total per day in healthy individuals, so if you're the type that brags that you can hold it all day, this is for you! Habitually holding urine for too long can lead to urinary urgency. In fact, in this study of 400 nurses (both male and female), those who engaged in unhealthy toileting behaviors (e.g. delayed voiding and straining to void) had a significantly higher likelihood of having overactive bladders. (And in my own experience as a PT, this applies to other professions such as teachers and flight attendants as well!)
8. Give yourself enough time to empty your bladder, and avoid pushing
If you're thinking of straining to empty your bladder faster, don't do it! This can be detrimental over time to the supporting structures of your bladder, and contribute to incontinence. If your toddler is banging on the door to get your attention, resist the urge to rush, and take a couple more seconds for yourself for better bladder (and pelvic floor) health.
9. Manage chronic cough
Did you know that chronic coughing can strain your pelvic floor over time? If you have allergies that cause you to frequently cough, or a chronic lung disorder that causes coughing, be sure to speak with your healthcare practitioner to try to get this under the best control you can. Repetitive straining puts you at risk for several pelvic floor problems, including bladder problems. Don't fret about occasional coughs—our body is made to handle these!
10. Walk/exercise regularly to avoid fluid retention in legs
For many of us, frequent sitting can cause mild or even moderate fluid retention in our legs, which can lead to nighttime voiding. When we lie down at night, that extra fluid gets processed by our kidneys, often causing us to wake up at night for a trip to the bathroom. So if you are stuck working at home and sitting all day, remember to get up periodically and take a brief break to enhance the circulation in those legs! It just may help you sleep better at night.
So there you have it! Things you can start today to help keep your bladder healthy and happy. If you have any current bladder problems or symptoms, be sure to contact your healthcare practitioner or schedule a virtual appointment with me to discuss how we can get your bladder on the road to recovery.
Now, let's fill up that water bottle.....
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About the Author:
Angela is the owner of My Pelvic Therapy, PLLC and a licensed physical therapist. Prior to starting her telehealth private practice, she worked as a senior physical therapist for 17 years at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL, specializing in helping both women and men overcome their pelvic floor challenges. She received her physical therapy degree from Duke University, biology degree from University of Illinois, and is a lifelong learner of all things PT.
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