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Keeping your bladder healthy is important – especially if you have bladder dysfunction. Read about some common factors that impact bladder health and get tips for staying well.
By Lisa Vlamakis, MSN, RN, CRRN
A wide range of physiological, medical, lifestyle, developmental, social, and environmental factors can impact the health of your bladder over the course of your lifetime. And if you have neurogenic bladder disorder or bladder dysfunction, it’s especially important to be aware of them. Below are 10 common ones, as well as tips for protecting your bladder and keeping it healthy.
Factor #1 -- Constipation: Since the colon and bladder are so close together, it’s not surprising that the muscles and nerves controlling bowel movements and urination affect each other. Hard, compacted stool in the colon can put pressure on the bladder, causing it to not fill or empty completely, or to contract when it’s not supposed to. Frequent constipation can lead to urinary incontinence or urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Tip: Eat high-fiber foods, stay hydrated, and exercise regularly. These habits will help you avoid bladder complications caused by constipation.
Factor #2 – Obesity: In women, long-term obesity can lead to urethral mobility, which is when weakened pelvic floor muscles fail to adequately close the urethra (the tube through which urine exits the bladder). This condition can result in urinary incontinence, an overactive bladder, or urine retention severe enough to require catheterisation.
Tip: Do Kegel exercises. Kegel exercise involves repeatedly contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles (which support both bladder and bowel function) to strengthen them.
Factor #3 – Medications: Many common medications may affect bladder function. Muscle relaxants and sedatives like Valium, Ativan, and Librium can relax the urethra, causing frequent urination and stress incontinence (i.e., urine loss associated with physical activity). Narcotics such as Percocet, Demerol, and Morphine can cause urinary retention. Antihistamines like Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton can hinder the bladder’s ability to empty. And tricyclic antidepressants can increase urine leakage and stress incontinence.
Tip: Review your medications with your doctor to check for bladder-related side effects.
Factor #4 – Diet: Food and drink can significantly impact bladder health. Coffee, tea, carbonated soda, energy drinks, and fruit juices have high acid levels that may irritate the bladder. Daily consumption of these beverages could actually damage the bladder walls over time. Artificial sweeteners like Sucralose and spicy foods like Sriracha hot sauce are also known bladder irritants.
Tip: Avoid irritants. Use natural sweeteners like honey or agave. Drink at least six glasses of water daily. Consider taking supplements that may improve bladder health, such as vitamin C, oregano oil, D-mannose, and probiotics – but be sure to check with your doctor first.
Factor #5 – Smoking: It’s well known that smoking can cause lung cancer. But did you know that smokers are three times more likely to develop bladder cancer than non-smokers? The urine of smokers contains a very high concentration of the toxins found in cigarettes, so the bladder is exposed to these toxins for hours at a time in between voiding.
Tip: If you smoke, make a plan to quit, and get help and support if you need it.
Factor #6 – Bath products: If you love taking relaxing baths, know that some bath products may cause urinary and gynecological problems. Bath bombs, with their fragrance and fizz, can contain irritating chemicals and dyes that increase the risk of getting a UTI. Bath salts can lead to changes in vaginal pH levels, increasing the likelihood of yeast infections.
Tip: Use essential oils instead.
Factor #7 – Diabetes. If not managed carefully, this serious disease can cause bladder problems. Increased glucose levels can damage the nerves controlling bodily functions, such as bladder emptying. Over time, the muscles and nerves that need to work together to hold in urine may stop working properly. This can result in frequent urination, urgent desire to urinate, incontinence, urinary retention, or frequent UTIs.
Tip: If you are diabetic, ask your doctor how to avoid bladder dysfunction.
Factor #8 – Childhood development: Children with urinary issues often grow up to have bladder problems. For example, kids who were toilet trained at a later age than average often have overactive bladders and urinary incontinence as adults.
Factor #9 – Stigma: Incontinence is sometimes unfairly associated with a lack of cleanliness. This negative perception can keep people from seeking help for incontinence issues, and lead them to limit their social interactions.
Tip: If you’re experiencing incontinence and avoiding treatment, talk with a therapist or your healthcare provider.
Factor #10 -- Work life: Bladder health requires urinating often and when needed, rather than holding it in. But job demands sometimes make this difficult. Nurses, for instance, often struggle to find time to go to the bathroom. Retail workers might not be given breaks when they need them. And business travellers may not always have easy access to bathrooms.
Tip: if you have a bladder issue, prioritise your bladder health when researching and making job decisions.
The Key Takeaway
The more you know about the factors impacting bladder health, the better choices you can make – which is especially important if you have bladder dysfunction.
Financial Disclosure: Lisa Vlamakis received compensation from Hollister Incorporated for her contribution to this article.
Lisa Vlamakis, MSN, RN, CRRN, a Masters prepared nurse in Healthcare Administration and Education. She is a certified rehabilitation nurse with more than 26 years of rehabilitation nursing experience working directly with Intermountain Medical Center, where she holds the position as Nurse Manager in the Neuro Specialty Rehabilitation Unit.
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