Bladder health is a critical aspect of overall well-being that is often overlooked until problems arise, South African health coverage provider Affinity Health believes.
“Bladder issues, including incontinence, affect up to 50 million people globally, impacting their daily activities, self-esteem, and overall quality of life,” Affinity Health CEO Murray Hewlett explained.
“However, with the right knowledge and proactive measures, many bladder problems can be managed or even prevented.”
What is bladder leakage?
Bladder leakage, also known as urinary incontinence, can be caused by various factors and underlying conditions, Hewlett said.
Some common causes include:
Weak pelvic floor muscles
The muscles that support the bladder and control urine flow can weaken due to factors like ageing, childbirth, pregnancy, and obesity, the Affinity Health CEO explained.
“Weak pelvic floor muscles may result in stress incontinence, where leakage occurs during activities like coughing, sneezing or lifting.”
Over-active bladder muscles
Some individuals may experience an over-active bladder, where the bladder muscles contract involuntarily, leading to an urgent need to urinate and, in some cases, leakage, Hewlett warned.
Hewlett noted that certain neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, or spinal cord injuries, can disrupt the signals between the brain and the bladder, causing urinary incontinence.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
Infections in the urinary tract can irritate the bladder and lead to temporary incontinence, Hewlett said.
Some medications, such as diuretics, sedatives, or muscle relaxants, can contribute to urinary incontinence as a side effect.
Hormonal fluctuations during menopause can weaken pelvic floor muscles and affect bladder control.
Chronic medical conditions
Hewlett said that conditions like diabetes, obesity, and chronic coughing can increase the risk of urinary incontinence.
In men, an enlarged prostate gland or prostate surgery can affect bladder control, Affinity Health warned.
Bladder stones, tumours, or other obstructions in the urinary tract can lead to urinary incontinence.
Emotional stress, anxiety, or depression can exacerbate urinary incontinence in some individuals.
Hewlett also stressed that the specific cause of bladder leakage may vary from person to person.
He said that if you or someone you know is experiencing urinary incontinence, a healthcare provider should be consulted in order for a proper evaluation to be conducted.
“Various treatment options are available to address this condition.”
Tips to improve bladder health:
Stay hydrated, but be mindful of your fluid intake
Hewlett stressed that proper hydration is essential for overall health, but the timing and types of fluids you consume can affect bladder health.
- Dehydration can irritate the bladder and contribute to urinary tract problems. Aim for about eight-10 cups of water per day.
- Be cautious with caffeine and alcohol, which can irritate the bladder and increase the frequency of urination.
- Minimise your fluid intake in the evening to reduce night-time trips to the bathroom.
Maintain a healthy diet
Diet plays a crucial role in bladder health, Hewlett said, adding that spicy foods, acidic foods (like tomatoes and citrus fruits), as well as artificial sweeteners can irritate the bladder or contribute to incontinence.
“In contrast, foods high in antioxidants, such as berries, can promote a healthy urinary system.”
He recommended eating a diet rich in fibre to prevent constipation, which can weaken pelvic floor muscles.
Exercise can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles
Regular physical activity is crucial in maintaining a healthy weight and supporting overall bladder health, Hewlett noted.
“Consider integrating specific exercises, such as Kegel, core-strengthening, and cardiovascular workouts, into your routine to fortify the pelvic floor muscles and promote a healthy weight,” he said.
Practise good bathroom habits
Hewlett said that simple changes in bathroom habits can make a significant difference in bladder health. These include:
Avoid holding in urine
Frequent urination is a natural way to prevent over-stretching of the bladder.
Use proper toilet posture
Sitting with your feet flat on the ground and slightly leaning forward can help empty the bladder, Hewlett advised.
Go from front to back
Wipe from front to back after using the toilet, to prevent the spread of bacteria from the anus to the urethra. Hewlett said that this also reduces the risk of UTIs.
Seek professional guidance and support
Hewlett said that those who are experiencing bladder issues or incontinence, should seek help from healthcare professionals who specialise in urology or pelvic health.
“In some cases, medications or medical procedures may be recommended to address underlying bladder issues or incontinence,” he said.