Five tips for women's bladder health

Incontinence and prolapse are among the most common issues affecting women’s bladder health.

Both can cause discomfort and lead to embarrassing moments.

If you are having symptoms, don’t wait. Talk to your doctor right away. The earlier the diagnosis, the easier it is to treat. A delay in diagnosis may worsen your prognosis.

Here are five tips for women to improve bladder health.

1. Pay attention to your pelvic floor

Regardless of age, this is very important. As a society, we spend way too much time worrying if our stomachs are flat when we should really worry about the muscles holding up the body’s organs. Strong internal abdominal and pelvic (core) muscles are crucial. A solid core results in healthier breathing/oxygen flow, stronger respiratory muscles and better pelvic organ support. If you breathe correctly, you also pull up your pelvic floor since the core muscles of respiration and muscular support work in concert. Doing Kegels three to five times an hour for each hour you are awake will strengthen these muscles without needing a gym membership. In six weeks, you may see a considerable difference in your core, helping reduce prolapse and improve urinary continence.

2. Optimize your weight

More than two billion children and adults suffer from health problems related to being overweight or obese, according to The New England Journal of Medicine. Finding the right weight has never been more important. Excess weight increases pressure in your abdominal cavity and can press down and weaken the pelvic floor, tear connective tissue and stretch your nerves. This is common among pregnant women and mothers of newborns.

3. Eliminate triggers

For some people, medication may cause the type of incontinence called "urge incontinence," or that "gotta go" feeling. For others, different foods act as triggers to elicit an unwanted bladder contraction and leakage. Although this is not usually due to a weak pelvic floor, it is due to an issue with the nerves that rule the bladder (which contracts and empties without warning the poor urethra to snap closed first). Hot peppery foods can irritate the bladder. So can artificial sweeteners, chocolate or alcohol. To assist, remove one trigger for a two-week period. If your issue hasn’t resolved by then, try another trigger. You can pinpoint which trigger irritates your bladder by process of elimination.

4. Don't smoke

As if we need another reason not to smoke. There are 2,800 toxins in a single cigarette, which weakens the immune system as well as the nerves, muscles and connective tissue, which helps support the bladder and other pelvic organs. Coughing from the smoking itself serves as a repetitive assault on your pelvic floor and compromises its strength. It’s like a trampoline — every bounce is a press on your organs.

5. Notice changes

Whether vaginal or cesarean birth, all new moms and moms-to-be should be aware of their pelvic floor before, during and after child birth. If you are experiencing prolapse and/or incontinence either before pregnancy, or after (by the time your baby is 12 weeks old), see your gynecologist and urogynecologist. Formal pelvic floor physical therapy or other treatments may be needed.

Jill Maura Rabin, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and head of urogynecology at Northwell Health, has more than 30 years of experience as a practicing urogynecologist, researcher and lecturer. She holds seven patents and one copyright for medical and surgical devices. Widely published, she has authored many peer-reviewed papers, book chapters and three books on women’s health, including Mind Over Bladder, a Step-by-Step guide to Continence.