Pay attention to your bladder.
Do you give much thought to your bladder? Most people probably don’t ruminate much on the organ, which is located in the pelvis, between the pelvic bones. The bladder — a hollow, muscular organ that’s shaped like a balloon — is a key component of the urinary tract. Much like a balloon, the bladder expands as it fills with liquid. A normal bladder holds 1.5 to 2 cups of urine, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Emptying your bladder efficiently helps keep your kidneys functioning in a normal, healthy way. Normal kidney function in turn helps prevent the buildup of waste and additional fluid in the body. Pus, healthy kidneys help keep your body’s levels of electrolytes, like potassium and phosphate, stable. They also produce hormones that help regulate blood pressure. “Bladder health is very important because it can affect your day-to-day life immensely, especially if you develop common problems like bladder infections, urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections,” says Dr. James Lin, an internal medicine physician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group in the San Diego region. Experts recommend these 10 strategies for boosting and protecting the health of your bladder:
1. Go when you need to.
Most of us have had the uncomfortable experience of putting off the urge to urinate. Maybe it was while you were watching a long movie, or when you were stuck in a work-related meeting that seemed to last forever. Whatever the reason, when it comes to urinating, it’s a bad idea to “hold it,” says Dr. Rebecca Smith, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. Holding it, however, can lead to incontinence, urinary tract infections and even kidney damage, Smith says. Your best bet is to go when you need to.
2. Stay healthy overall.
The healthier you are overall, the less chance you’ll have of experiencing diabetes, heart failure, stroke and obesity — each of which can adversely affect your bladder’s ability to function, says Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, a urologist with Orlando Health. For example, if a patient contracts diabetes, he or she may need to urinate more often. “I’ve seen a lot of patients (who) come in with increased urination that we diagnose with early diabetes,” Brahmbhatt says. Consequently, your kidney filters additional amounts of urine, which can irritate the bladder. Also, strokes can lead to damage in the nerves that go to the bladder, he says. “This can lead to either going too much or having retention where you can’t pee at all,” he says. “Usually once the medical problems are managed, the bladder symptoms will improve.”
3. Don’t smoke.
Smoking is the No. 1 cause of bladder cancer, Brahmbhatt says. Treatment for bladder cancer includes surgery to remove tumors, chemotherapy and even removing the entire organ, he says. “Your best bet to avoiding bladder cancer is to not smoke,” Brahmbhatt says. If you do smoke, you should quit, he advises.
4. Moderate your intake of bladder irritants.
Many people’s bladders are sensitive to irritants present in coffee, carbonated soda, tea and alcoholic beverages, says Dr. Taylor J. Brueseke, medical director for the Center for Pelvic Health at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California. Some acidic fruits, like oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes and some fruit juices, can also irritate your bladder, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Avoiding bladder irritants can result in dramatic improvements in bladder function,” Brueseke says.
5. Drink enough water.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says a healthy man should drink about 15.5 cups of fluids a day (3.7 liters) and a healthy woman should consume about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters). Drinking enough water can help protect your bladder’s health, Brahmbhatt says. Your bladder is like a sponge that needs to get wet to start absorbing water. “When you don’t drink enough water, the urine in the bladder can become super concentrated, which can irritate the bladder and make you go more often,” he says. “It can cause burning when you urinate, and can even make you prone to bladder infections. On hot days you will have to drink more water since your body will lose its water reserves (cooling itself).”
6. Lose weight.
If, like most people, you’re carrying a few extra pounds — more than two-thirds of the U.S. adult population is overweight or obese, according to the NIDDK — losing weight can be helpful to your bladder health, Brueseke says. “Carrying extra weight around the midsection puts extra pressure on the bladder, and dropping those extra pounds can improve bladder symptoms by as much as 50 percent,” he says.
7. Men: Be vigilant about your prostate health.
Many men over age 50 have an enlarged prostate, which can cause urinary problems, Brahmbhatt says. “When your bladder can’t empty the way it wants due to restrictions from your big prostate, it can get overactive, as its muscles get strong and sensitive to even small amounts of urine,” Brahmbhatt says. This can cause increased frequency in urination, an urgent need to urinate, a weak urinary stream that may stop and start, a sense of incomplete bladder emptying and incontinence. Because the condition often causes the need to go to the bathroom at night, it can lead to fatigue the next day. Treatments for an enlarged prostate include prescription medications that relax or shrink your prostate. Newer procedures, like the UroLift System, in which a urologist places tiny implants in the prostate to increase the opening of the urethra and allow for greater urine flow, show promise, but more research is needed to determine their long-term effectiveness, says Kevin McVary, chairman of urology at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. He’s also co-chairman of the American Urological Association’s Clinical Guidelines for BPH.
8. Women: Do pelvic floor exercises.
Almost 25 percent of women face pelvic floor disorders, according to research funded by the National Institutes of Health. The number of women who have the condition goes up with age. For example, about 27 percent of women ages 40 to 59 have pelvic floor dysfunction, says Dr. R. Mark Ellerkmann, director of urogynecology, Weinberg Center for Women’s Health and Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Women with this disorder can experience incontinence related to activities like coughing, sneezing or jumping. Doing pelvic floor exercises is a great option for those who are affected, says Isa Herrera, a physical therapist based in New York City and founder of pelvicpainrelief.com. “The pelvic floor muscles support the bladder, and when these muscles are weakened or too tight, they can contribute to leaking, prolapse or urgency of urination or incontinence,” Herrera says. She recommends kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles.
9. Women: Urinate after sexual activity.
Emptying your bladder after sexual activity will help flush out bacteria that may have entered into your urethra (the tube that drains your bladder) during intercourse, says Dr. Kimberly Kho, associate chief of gynecology at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital. Cleansing the bacteria from your urethra reduces your chances of getting a urinary tract infection.
10. Wipe this way.
After using the bathroom, women should wipe from front to back, Kho says. “This prevents bacteria from the anal area, which can accumulate after a bowel movement, from entering the urethra,” she says. And it can help prevent bacteria from your gastrointestinal tract from entering your urethra and causing a urinary tract infection.
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