November was recently proclaimed Bladder Health Month. But with the many observances recognized each month, it is easy for the bladder to get lost in the shuffle.
I can think of few issues more in need of an awareness month than bladder health. Bladder conditions — such as accidentally leaking urine (urinary incontinence), needing to go eight or more times per day (urinary frequency), getting up to go at night (nocturia), or having a very strong and sudden need to urinate (urgency) — are extremely common. What’s more, these symptoms are associated with reduced physical activity, poor adherence to certain blood pressure medicines, social isolation, falls, fractures, and nursing home admissions.
The cost of bladder conditions to the health care system — and more importantly, to women — is enormous. Yet, as I’ve discussed previously, they remain invisible. Because discussion of bodily functions related to organs below the belly button is not considered polite, bladder problems are often ignored, unrecognized by clinicians, and hidden by women who may be too embarrassed to acknowledge that they experience them.
Shining a spotlight on bladder health during November (and year-round) may signal to women with bladder problems that they don’t have to suffer in silence. Recognizing Bladder Health Month may motivate women with bladder problems to seek treatment, and it may also encourage women without symptoms to protect their bladders.
That is why I was so pleased when the Office on Women’s Health asked me to share tips for a healthier bladder in recognition of Bladder Health Month. But since I’ve already given my advice on how to love your bladder, I thought I’d share advice from some incredible scientists with whom I’ve had the honor to collaborate as part of the Prevention of Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms (PLUS) Research Consortium. PLUS investigators include experts in the bladder, as well as public health, nursing, behavior science, and other fields.
I asked PLUS bladder experts what they wish every woman knew about the bladder. For those who were new to bladder health when they joined PLUS, I asked what they were most surprised to learn about the bladder. Here are the top nine things they want you to know:
- Bladder conditions are not an inevitable part of aging.
- Bladder conditions can be treated — often without medication or surgery.
- It’s important to understand the relationship between fluid intake and urine output. The more you drink, the more urine you make, and the sooner you’ll need to empty your bladder. In other words, if you drink a lot of fluid, urinating frequently may be completely normal.
- What you eat and drink may affect bladder symptoms. Many people with bladder problems report that spicy or acidic foods make their symptoms worse.
- Small amounts of bacteria live in the normal, healthy bladder.
- The bladder, uterus, and bowel are right next to each other in the pelvis and can affect each other’s functions.
- Bladder conditions are common in girls and young women.
- Choices of when and how to urinate may be important to long-term bladder health.
- Limited access to bathrooms because of the work or school environment may cause people to hold their urine for extended periods of time, which may harm the bladder in the short and long term.
Conversations about bladder health are so important, and I hope that Bladder Health Month helps to reduce the stigma around bladders that often prevents these discussions from happening. And I hope that readers of this blog will use Bladder Health Month to start a conversation about the bladder with a friend, family member, or colleague. Also, if you believe that you are experiencing bladder problems, please do talk to your health care professional about it soon.