Bladder Health for Life

Like many other tissues of the body, bladder muscles get weaker and less stretchy with age, causing a series of problems. But you can take steps to mitigate the problem

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The aging process is unkind to most of the body. The bladder is no exception. To support bladder health, you can take steps to mitigate the effects of aging.

It helps to understand better how aging affects the bladder.

Ju Joh is a family medicine physician and associate chief medical officer with Primary Mobile Healthcare Partners in Buffalo. He said that like many other tissues of the body, the bladder’s tissue gets weaker and less stretchy with age.

That means that the bladder won’t hold as much and that the bladder won’t completely empty during urination. Some older adults purposefully hold their urine in an attempt to “strengthen” it.

“If you can’t hold urine well and you start retaining urine, it further weakens the bladder,” Joh said.

To avoid exacerbating the issue, he advises attempting to completely empty the bladder at least every three to four hours.

“When you stretch out the muscle and thin it out by holding urine, it won’t retract as it should,” Joh said. “’Trucker’s bladder’ is an issue that later can cause incontinence.”

It can also contribute to urinary tract infections. Joh said that the longer a person holds urine, the more opportunity bacteria has to infect the urinary tract and the bladder.

“When you urinate, that lets you get rid of the bacteria,” he said.

Women who have given birth to multiple children often experience urinary leaking and incontinence, since the pelvic floor muscles support the bladder. Childbearing weakens those muscles and it can manifest years later. Women should consider performing Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles. Consulting with a physical therapist that specializes in incontinence may also help.

For men, enlarged prostates can block the flow of urine from the bladder, causing them to struggle to empty the bladder completely or urinate at all. Consulting with a urologist can help men mitigate the effects of enlarged prostate.

Lifestyle changes can help maintain better bladder health. Joh recommended staying active and eating a balanced diet should help. Alcohol and coffee and other sources of caffeine can irritate the bladder, so reducing intake can improve bladder function.

“The older you get, constipation begins to play a role in urinary retention and bladder injuries,” Joh said.

Maintain regular bowel movements by eating more foods rich in fiber such as whole grains and whole fruits and vegetables or adding a fiber supplement to the diet.

Other medical conditions can exacerbate bladder problems, such as diabetes, which can affect the nerves that control the bladder and alter the sensation that the bladder is full. Some medications can make a difference, too.

“Older adults should bring up their medication list with their doctor,” Joh said. “Look it over and talk about the benefits and risks. If they’ve been on hypertension medication for awhile, could they change their personal behavior and habits that could get them off the mediation? That medication can cause kidney issues. They should also talk about any natural supplements they’re taking.”

Chanh Huynh is board-certified in family medicine and works at Churchville-Chili Family Medicine, LLC in North Chili. He said that obesity puts older patients at “significantly higher risk for urinary incontinence.”

He advises patients to drink at least eight 6-oz. servings of water throughout the day to ensure adequate hydration. Drinking plenty of water can aid in alleviating constipation, another condition that hampers urination.

Smokers should quit. In addition to its many ill effects on many bodily functions and organs,
“smokers are two to four times more likely to have incontinence,” Huynh said. “For a long-term, heavy smoker more than one pack a day it’s six times more likely.”

He also advised that women urinate after sexual intercourse to decrease their risk for urinary tract infection.

“Post-menopausal women may benefit from a vaginal estrogen cream, but they should ask their doctor,” Huynh said.