Nearly Half of Women Over 50 Have Leaky Bladders - Mature Health Center

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Nearly Half of Women Over 50 Have Leaky Bladders

Nearly Half of Women Over 50 Have Leaky Bladders

There’s a health issue plaguing many women that they aren’t talking about — at least to their doctors.  

A recent survey of more than 1,000 women ages 50 to 80 revealed that 43% of those ages 50 to 64 said they suffered from incontinence. Of those 65 and older, 51% reported incontinence.

But two-thirds of the women who experience leaky bladders hadn’t spoken to their doctors about the issue, according to the poll conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and sponsored by the AARP and Michigan Medicine.

Dr. Carolyn Swenson of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a specialist in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery who helped with the survey and findings, told Reuters she that what she wants people to take away from the survey is that urinary incontinence is common and treatable and that women don’t have to just live with it.

Types of Incontinence

There are different types of incontinence, with different types of treatment. One of the most common is stress incontinence, which happens when physical movement or activity such as coughing, sneezing, lifting heavy objects or running, puts stress on the bladder. The extra stress can damage nerves, muscle and connective tissue of the pelvic floor.

Urge incontinence is another type and often is called overactive bladder. This is when you have an urgent need to go to the bathroom and may not get there in time.

Other types are overflow incontinence, when you can’t empty your bladder; functional incontinence, when mental or physical problems such as dementia or arthritis prevent you from getting to the bathroom in time; and mixed urinary incontinence, which is a combination of two types of the condition.  

Other causes of incontinence can include low back problems, pain, excessive weight, weakness or tightness of the pelvic floor muscles, surgery in the abdominal area or a hysterectomy, or a more serious pathology, said Char Challenger-Smith, a physical therapist, certified athletic trainer and sports specialist with Rehab and Sport Medicine at Northern Nevada Medical Center. 

‘A Very Treatable Condition’

"Regardless of the cause, incontinence is not normal and is an indication that the pelvic floor is not functioning properly," Challenger-Smith told the Reno Gazette Journal. "It is a very treatable condition and should not be accepted as normal after child bearing or at any age it strikes."

The University of Michigan study found that many women are coping by using pads, wearing special underwear, limiting fluid consumption and wearing dark clothing to disguise signs of leakage. Just 38% reported doing Kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles that can help hold in urine.

Types of Treatment

People who practiced Kegel exercises — pelvic floor exercises to strengthen muscles to support organs, improve bladder control and prevent urine leakage — were 2.5 to 17 times more likely to fully recover from urinary incontinence, according to a University of Otago in New Zealand review of studies. The researchers found that the exercises were more effective, however, if someone supervised to ensure that patients were exercising the correct muscles.

Another treatment is to retrain your bladder. Because people with incontinence can develop a habit of going to the bathroom to avoid accidents, they can actually exacerbate the problem, as the bladder gets used to the frequent trips. Bladder retraining involves strengthening the muscles that control the bladder to help the bladder hold more urine.

Maintaining a healthy weight, limiting caffeine and alcohol and practicing yoga are other therapies.

Some women undergo surgery in which mesh is inserted to create a type of hammock, supporting both the bladder and the urethra. But the use of the mesh has been controversial, as thousands of women have complained about — and even sued because of — complications including burning sensations and debilitating pain.

Talking to Your Doctor

Don’t be embarrassed to discuss your incontinence with a doctor. To start the conversation, ask if he or she has experience with urinary incontinence. If your doctor doesn’t treat it routinely, ask for a referral to a specialist, possibly a urogynecologist, an obstetrician-gynecologist or urologist who specializes in the care of women with pelvic floor dysfunction.

Keeping a bladder diary of your habits and symptoms before your appointment can also be useful to your doctor.

Whatever doctor you reach out to, remember that incontinence is not just a part of aging — it’s treatable, and you can improve your quality of life by seeking treatment.