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Most people don't give their bladder much thought – until something goes wrong. Yet it is one of our most important organs, working hard for us around the clock.
With the passing years the bladder becomes tougher and less elastic, so is less able to hold as much urine as before. The bladder wall and pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder and bowel – and the uterus in women – also get looser. The result? We are more prone to bladder problems.
The good news is that there's plenty you can do to keep your bladder healthy. Here's what can go wrong and the possible solutions.
LIKELY TO BE Stress incontinence
CAUSES Increased abdominal pressure – caused by exertion from sneezing, coughing, bending over, laughing, lifting weights, running, aerobics or even walking – in turn puts pressure on the bladder. If the urethral sphincter or pelvic floor muscles are weakened or damaged you are no longer able to hold urine in.
In women, this can be a result of pregnancy and birth, obesity or hormonal changes at menopause. In men, it can be a result of prostate surgery.
LIKELY TO BE Overactive bladder
CAUSES Sometimes called 'doorstep incontinence' because it often happens when the loo is in striking distance, it occurs when nerve signals between the bladder and brain get out of sync or when the bladder muscles contract to release urine before the bladder is full.
Problems affecting the nervous system such as Parkinson's and stroke can be a factor. In men, overactive bladder can be confused with an enlarged prostate, as they share similar symptoms.
Symptoms of this chronic condition, which often mimics cystitis, include frequency, urgency, pain in the abdomen and urethra and painful sex. Possible culprits? An autoimmune reaction, thinning of the protective mucus lining of the bladder, triggering inflammation, and increased sensitisation of nerves. Stress management, CBT and dietary measures may all help, as may certain supplements. Specialist treatment may be needed.
LIKELY TO BE Cystitis
OTHER SYMPTOMS Cloudy, dark, smelly urine, needing to urinate more often, and to pass urine immediately.
CAUSES Bacterial infection, causing inflammation of the bladder and urethra.
The bladder typically holds 400-600ml (1 pint) of urine, but the urge to pass urine happens when the bladder is about a quarter full.
LIKELY TO BE Bladder prolapse or cystocele. Sometimes known as fallen bladder
OTHER SYMPTOMS Problems urinating, feeling the bladder is not completely empty after passing urine, stress incontinence, frequent urinary infections and painful sex.
CAUSES Solely a woman's problem, this occurs when the front wall of the vagina, which supports the bladder, weakens or becomes laxer. This can be due to age, damage during childbirth or menopausal changes. The bladder may 'drop' and bulge to varying degrees into the vaginal wall.
Try these simple lifestyle changes