Turns out, I would have been better off allowing bladder health knowledge to continue living rent free in my mind. Even though it's not as sexy a topic as, say, inflammation or gut health, being aware of your bladder health is definitely more important for a variety of reasons. Bladder problems in women, from urinary tract infections (UTIs) to leakage and more, are very common, especially as you age. And taking good care of your bladder can go away towards ensuring that your day-to-day life is comfortable and less stressful. With that in mind, I got in touch with two urologists to find out what you need to know about your bladder health at every age.
Bladder health in your 20s: Preventative care
Bladder health might seem like a thing to worry about later in life, but preventative care is crucial in your 20s to ensure that you're less at risk for leakage, infections, and discomfort in the future. "Treat your bladder kindly now, hydrate throughout the day, and don’t hold it for too long," says Jeannine Miranne, MD, urogynecologist, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, and medical advisor to Attn: Grace.
Most bladder symptoms in healthy people in their 20s and 30s "result from benign conditions, dietary factors, or behaviors," adds Peter Stahl, MD, urologist and clinical director at health-care startups Hims and Hers. "Caffeine is probably the most common offender—it activates bladder contractions and has diuretic properties. That makes people pee often and creates a sense of urinary urgency that can be quite bothersome." In other depressing news, bubbly water is also a bladder irritant. Le sigh.
In your 30s: Addressing potential leakage
Dr. Miranne says that this is the decade where many people with vaginas start to experience bladder leakage—especially connected to pregnancy and postpartum. That's because pregnancy and childbirth can stress and even damage the tissues in your pelvis, which can make it harder to control your bladder. "Because of the stigma that still exists around bladder leakage, women in this age bracket often make the mistake of trying to use period products to treat urinary incontinence," says Dr. Miranne. This is an issue for two reasons: blood and urine have different viscosities, and urine flows much more quickly than menstrual blood. Thus products designed to absorb period blood are not cut out for the task of protecting you from bladder leakage, she says—leaving people feeling wet and uncomfortable.
Dr. Miranne adds that during pregnancy, increased urination can be due to the body trying to clear out toxins faster. Also, you may feel more urgent needs to pee later in pregnancy, as your uterus is growing and can press on your bladder. If you are pregnant, Dr. Stahl advises you to be vigilant about reporting and treating and bladder symptoms. "Bladder infections can progress to kidney infections, which can threaten the health of a pregnancy," he says. See your doctor right away for the proper course of treatment—this is definitely not a time for DIY at-home solutions.
In your 40s: Strengthening your muscles
As we age the prevalence of urinary tract diseases increases, says Dr. Stahl—so it's especially important in your 40s and beyond to be aware of changes in their bladder, and become familiar with the signs and symptoms of bladder cancer.
"Overactive bladder also occurs with high prevalence and is a common cause of urinary bother in women," says Dr. Stahl. "The bladder muscle can also start to weaken in middle age. That can result in incomplete bladder emptying for both men and women, which can predispose to frequent urinary tract infections and, in more severe cases, kidney dysfunction." He notes that visible or microscopic blood in urine should be taken seriously; if you notice this (and you're not on your period), you should make an appointment with your doctor.
"In your 40s it is important to keep up the healthy habits you started in earlier decades, and to routinely do your kegels to keep your pelvic floor muscles strong," says Dr. Miranne. "If you are experiencing stress or urge incontinence, it is helpful to keep a bladder diary to better understand your symptoms and any triggers." As mentioned, coffee and carbonated beverages are common triggers, so be mindful of your intake particularly if you're having bladder issues.
In your 50s and beyond: Supporting bladder control
"In this demographic, needing some light [bladder] support for working out or overnight becomes more common, but if you need to wear a pad everyday, you should begin to explore further treatment options," says Dr. Miranne. She notes that as we age, our skin gets more sensitive, so it's important to avoid irritants like petrochemicals, bleach, and fragrance, which are commonly found in incontinence products.
Dr. Stahl says that after age 60, lower urinary tract problems are common, so you should see a urologist if you're having bothersome symptoms. "Fortunately, safe and effective medical and surgical treatments are available for many of these disorders," he says. Perhaps most importantly: "You don’t have to be wet and embarrassed!" says Dr. Miranne. "There are so many treatment options out there and your doctor can help you find the option that might be best for you."
Dr. Miranne also wants you to know that you are not alone if you're struggling with bladder control issues as you age. "Up to 50 percent of women ages 80 and older will have a problem with their bladder control," she notes. She says to pay attention to your fluid intake, and try to keep your bladder on a schedule throughout the day. "Also continue to do your kegel exercises!"
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