From pills to perfumes to protective pads, there’s no shortage of ads touting products aimed at helping women cope with “leaky pipes.” Many women think urinary incontinence simply comes with aging or they feel too embarrassed to ask a doctor about it. Sound familiar? There are a few simple things to know and do that can help.
Urogynecologist Dr. Gunhilde Buchsbaum says it’s never too late—and rarely too soon—to take steps to protect your bladder health. Women of all ages should know that incontinence is not normal. Bladder problems can get worse if not treated.
Let’s start by understanding the most common bladder complaints.
Urine leakage—You laugh, or sneeze, and you feel a little pee come out. You may even joke about it and think it’s something you just have to live with.
Frequent or painful urination—You’re going all the time. Or, when you go, it hurts. These may be signs of an infection or a blockage.
Blood in urine—You saw red in the bowl. Yes, it can be alarming, but resist the urge to keep it a secret. It may signal an infection, or kidney or bladder stones. In some cases, it may be a sign of bladder cancer. Without exception, if you find blood in your urine, contact your doctor. It doesn’t necessarily mean there is a serious problem but, if there is one, catching it early can make a big difference in figuring out what it is and taking care of it.
Urinary incontinence—You just can’t “hold it” like you used to. Despite what many women think, it’s not something you simply have to accept as you get older. There are different types of incontinence with varying treatments.
- Stress incontinence occurs commonly with exercise, coughing, sneezing, or laughing
- Urge incontinence is sudden and/or strong urge to urinate
- Overflow incontinence, or urinary retention, means when the bladder is unable to fully empty.
Depending on the type and severity of your problem, help may include exercises that strengthen your pelvic floor (Kegel exercises); avoiding irritants like caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners; and developing new habits that help with the urge to go. In some cases, medication, nerve stimulation, or surgery may provide relief.
Women should also learn to recognize the symptoms of urinary tract (bladder) infections. They may vary from person to person and become less obvious in elderly women. For example, a young woman usually has the classic symptoms: urgency, frequency, and pain with urinating. An older woman may notice fatigue, confusion, low backache, or perhaps an increase in urinary incontinence. Women of all ages should know that incontinence is not normal. Bladder leakage can get worse if not treated.
The bottom line on bladder problems: There’s no need to suffer in silence. There are many tools available for evaluating and treating bladder problems in women.
Gunhilde Buchsbaum, M.D., is a professor Obstetrics and Gynecology, professor of Urology, and director of urogynecology at URMC. She founded and directs the Pelvic Health and Continence Specialties practice at URMC’s Women’s Health Pavilion.