Bladder problems are one of the least dignified side effects of aging, and they’re more common than you might think. Up to half of older women may suffer from urinary incontinence. Bladder health may be a taboo subject, but it deserves more attention given how many older adults suffer from age-related bladder problems. Here’s what you need to know about how your bladder changes as you age and what potential complications to expect:
How Your Bladder Changes as You Age
Your body undergoes many changes as you age, and this is true for your bladder and kidneys as well as the other parts of your body. The elastic tissue that forms the walls of the bladder becomes less stretchy, meaning that your bladder can hold less urine before it feels full. The bladder muscles also weaken, which makes it more difficult to hold in your urine. In women, the urethra (aka the tube through which urine leaves your body) can become blocked via prolapse, which occurs when the pelvic organs shift out of position due to weakened muscles.
Your kidneys also experience age-related decline that can impact your urinary system as well. The older you get, the more your kidney tissue diminishes. You will experience a decrease in the number of nephrons, the filter units that help convert the waste in the blood into the urine. Blood vessels supplying the kidneys can also become hardened as you age. All of these factors impact your kidneys’ abilities to function properly, which in turn can influence how your urinary system performs.
Thankfully, most healthy people experience age-related kidney decline very slowly. Most urinary problems are caused by changes in the bladder health, not the kidneys, though your doctor will want to rule out kidneys as a potential cause before creating a treatment plan.
Common Bladder Problems
Unfortunately, all these age-related changes make you more prone to develop certain bladder problems. Bladder control issues are one of the most common problems, and they can take several forms.
Women with weakened pelvic muscles may experience involuntary bladder leakage, also known as urinary incontinence, which often takes the form of dribbles in between bathroom visits. Some people don’t even realize they’ve wet themselves until it’s too late. Others have the opposite problem and experience overwhelming urges to go to the bathroom, even when they don’t actually need to go. Sometimes, these urges are followed by the involuntary loss of urine, though not always.
Some women also have trouble fully emptying their bladders, leaving urine to sit in it around the clock. This greatly increases their chances of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI), which occurs when bacteria enter the bladder. Symptoms of UTIs include cloudy or bloody-looking urine, burning or pain when urinating, a constant urge to urinate, feelings of pressure or cramping, and even a low-grade fever.
If not treated promptly, UTIs can spread to your kidneys, causing a severe and potentially life-threatening condition. When caught early, UTIs can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics that last only a few days. If you suspect that you have a UTI, contact your health provider immediately for diagnosis and treatment.
Treatment for Bladder Problems
Just because bladder problems may be caused by the inevitable process of aging doesn’t mean that you have to simply accept them for the rest of your life. If your bladder issues are impacting your quality of life in any way, then you should reach out to your doctor so you can get to the bottom of what is causing them. Your treatment plan will depend on the exact causes of your bladder problems.
Possible treatments include medications, dietary changes, pelvic floor exercises, and bladder training. Dietary changes will help remove potential bladder irritants, such as spicy foods and caffeine. Your doctor might have you do an elimination diet and then keep a log of your bladder symptoms as you add foods back to identify your personal trigger foods.
Pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels and pelvic tilts, will help tighten weakened muscles, which will in turn help to reduce involuntary bladder leakage. If your problem is bladder spasms and urges caused by overly tight muscles, then your doctor will likely recommend pelvic therapy relaxation techniques instead.
Bladder training is used to help those struggling with urge incontinence and frequent urination. Bladder training can take several forms, depending on what exactly you are struggling with. If you find yourself using the bathroom too much, then your doctor might recommend putting yourself on a set schedule so you only urinate at certain times of the day. If you are experiencing frequent urges, then they might recommend trying to wait at least five minutes after each urge passes before using the bathroom. Over time, you increase this waiting period until you are using the bathroom at normal intervals (every two to four hours).
Most bladder treatments, even medications, take some time before they fully go into effect. While you are waiting for long-term solutions to start working, bladder control products such as absorbent pads and undies can help keep you comfortable and dry in the meantime.
Bladder problems can seriously impact your quality of life at any age, and especially in your golden years. Some people even stop leaving the house for fear of bladder leaks or urges — but this doesn’t have to be you. Yes, your bladder will likely change as you age, and you may experience some health problems as a result, but this doesn’t mean that you have to simply accept it. If you’ve been noticing age-related bladder changes, talk to your doctor about potential treatment options so that you can get the relief you deserve.
Having completed my Bachelor’s degree in medicine and currently pursuing a house job at a well-reputed hospital in California, I decided to utilize my spare time in sharing knowledge with others through my blog. Apart from my time spent in the medical field, I love to read fiction novels and go on long drives.