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Dealing with Urinary Problems

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 22 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Menopause Bladder Control Symptoms

While many people are familiar with the more commonly discussed challenges of menopause such as hot flushes, irregular periods and mood swings there are a number of other concerns such as bladder control – that result from the hormonal changes during the menopausal transition. Another such change is the onset of urinary problems. Those who have previously suffered from urinary conditions and related symptoms may find that their symptoms worsen when menopause begins.

Others who have never had any issues at all with their urinary tract and bladder control may now find that they are plagued with problems such as frequent urinary tract infections. You should also keep in mind that there are urinary challenges that coincidentally may show symptoms around the time you reach menopause. However, these conditions may be completely unrelated to menopause, although they can certainly be more difficult to handle given that you may already be dealing with the physical, emotional and mental symptoms of menopause.

Urinary Tract Infections

Despite the cringe-factor that many people associate with urine – they assume it is one of the 'dirtiest' products of the body – this is not the case at all. Urine is actually quite sterile or it should be sterile, assuming no infection or similar health condition is present.

Researchers and doctors still aren't sure exactly why some women seem more prone to urinary tract infections. They do know that there are certain times in a woman's life when she may be more prone to these types of infections. Menopause is one such time when a woman may find that she suffers from her first infection of the urinary tract. Alternately, women who have already struggled with frequent infections may now find that the menopausal transition places an additional burden on the body.

You may be wondering why this occurs – oestrogen is thought to have a protective effect on the vagina. It keeps vaginal tissues elastic and promotes strength and flexibility to the vaginal wall. It also serves to encourage healthy vaginal lubrication. During sexual intercourse, the friction has two effects. First, it forces bacteria – typically escherichia coli from the bowels –into the urethra, where it travels through the urinary tract and multiplies rapidly, producing symptoms of a urinary tract infection. These include burning during urination, cramping and a painful feeling of fullness in the bladder.

The second effect is that it places additional pressure on the bladder wall. In turn, your body's natural defences can be challenged to repel the bacteria that are forced into the area. In a sense, your bladder is 'stunned.' As your oestrogen levels continue to decline during the perimenopause phase, your body may have a more difficult time repelling these bacteria. Women can, of course, still suffer from these infections due to other triggers but the oestrogen loss during menopause coupled with sexual activity is a concern for some women.

Urinary Incontinence

Urinary incontinence and any issues relating to bladder control afflict a significantly larger number of women than men. Some women may now find they are having bladder control problems and they are 'leaking' urine. You may wonder if these urinary problems relating to bladder control are caused by the menopausal transition. Actually, one key reason it is thought that women suffer from urinary incontinence and other bladder control problems more often than men is that vaginal childbirth places a strain on the bladder, which can leave tissues stretched.

The effects of childbirth do not always present immediately following the birthing process. In fact, they can take years to show up, which is why you may now begin to experience urinary problems during the menopausal transition. You should also know that oestrogen keeps the urethra and bladder wall healthy and strong, which means that as your oestrogen levels decline, you can begin to experience urinary incontinence.

Treating Bladder Problems

Urinary problems can plague women at any age. Unfortunately, women are simply more prone to problems with their urinary tract as well as problems with bladder control in comparison with men. This predisposition relates to the female anatomy – women have a shorter urethra – as well as important biological factors such as pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. While your bladder control or other bladder symptoms can be frustrating and challenging to handle, the most important step is to initiate a visit with your primary care doctor.

Assessing the problem and obtaining an accurate diagnosis are vital in obtaining the best treatment for bladder control, infections and other conditions. Depending on the specifics of your urinary problem, you may be able to obtain relief with some basic lifestyle adjustments.

For some women, limiting caffeine can help while for others, strengthening pelvic muscles can improve bladder control problems. Still others will be able to access the newest medications to treat bladder conditions. There are even effective surgeries for women who are appropriate candidates and have unsuccessfully tried other treatments. Either way, there are many options for treating urinary problems in women, which can help you to take the focus off your discomfort and put it back into happily living your life after menopause.

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