Bladder issues affect millions of women around the globe. But did you know that urinary urgency and incontinence are one of the most common and troublesome symptoms of menopause?
Research suggests that more than 30% of women experience these kinds of problems during their menopausal journey. But why does it happen, and what can we do to find relief? Read on to find out.
What Are the Main Urinary Symptoms During Menopause?
The most common bladder issues you might experience during your menopausal years are:
Increased urine frequency
You might find yourself peeing more often than you used to and waking up during the night to visit the bathroom.
The phrase “When you gotta go, you gotta go” takes on a whole new meaning. When the urge to urinate arrives, it’s overwhelming and immediate.
There are two types of bladder incontinence.
Stress incontinence happens when urine leaks out while you sneeze, laugh, or exercise. It’s especially prevalent in women who have had children.
Urge incontinence happens when you need to visit the bathroom urgently, but urine leaks out before you make it to the toilet.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
UTIs can increase during menopause, and some women experience recurrent UTIs.
Symptoms of a UTI include pain or burning while urinating, frequent urination, pressure or an ache in the lower abdomen, the urge to go when the bladder is empty, and blood in the urine.
What Causes Urinary Symptoms During Menopause?
Bladder issues become more frequent the older we get. But hitting middle age isn’t the only reason you might need to visit the washroom more often.
The hormonal changes we go through during menopause can have a big impact on our urinary system.
Estrogen supports the tissues in the bladder, the urethra, and the vagina, keeping them strong and flexible. But during menopause, our levels of estrogen fall dramatically. This makes our entire urinary system more delicate and prone to irritation.
Sometimes, the bladder becomes irritated before it has a chance to fill up. So, even if you just went 20 minutes ago, suddenly, the urge to pee returns. This irritation can also be accompanied by a dull ache or feeling of discomfort.
But it’s not just the bladder that experiences changes during menopause. Estrogen loss can lead to vaginal atrophy. This is a condition where the walls and tissues of the vagina, including the urethra, become weakened.
This makes it harder to hold in urine and easier to pick up an infection.
UTIs and Menopause: Is there a Link?
Women are already much more likely to experience urinary tract infections than men. According to research, an estimated 60% of females will contract at least one UTI throughout their lives, compared with just 12% of men.
One major factor behind this statistic is the length of our urethras. Most women have significantly shorter urethras than men. So, bacteria that enters has a much shorter journey to the bladder, making infection more likely.
But women are even more susceptible to UTIs during and after menopause.
That’s because as estrogen decreases, the vaginal tissues can become compromised, making it easier for harmful bacteria to take over.
To make matters worse, once you’ve had a UTI, you have a 20%-40% chance of having another one. So, recurrent UTIs are relatively common for women during their menopausal years.
How Can I Prevent Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)?
Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to avoid UTIs during menopause. However, there are some steps you can take which will minimize your chances of contracting an infection. The CDC recommends:
- Keeping well hydrated
- Urinating before and after sexual activity
- Avoiding the use of douches, or other feminine hygiene cleansers
- Wiping front to back
- Taking showers, not baths
7 Tips for Better Bladder Health
If urinary symptoms are getting you down, the following tips can help you find relief.
1. Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor
If urinary incontinence and urgency are an issue for you, try working out your pelvic floor muscles.
Regular pelvic floor exercises (also known as kegel exercises) can make a huge difference to the strength and tone of your bladder. It’s important to stick with it, as it can take up to 12 weeks to see an improvement. But once you do, you’ll be glad you put in the effort.
2. Cut Out Alcohol and Caffeine
Alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, so they increase the volume of your urine. Both of these substances are also known to irritate the bladder, adding to urgency and incontinence issues.
So, cut back on your alcohol consumption, and try switching your morning cup of coffee to a decaf version and see how your symptoms improve.
3. Drink Plenty of Water
It may seem counterintuitive, but if urgency and incontinence are an issue for you, avoid the temptation to drink less.
Being dehydrated only leads to more issues, including an increased chance of developing a UTI. Chronic dehydration can also shrink your bladder to a smaller size, causing it to hold less volume.
4. Lose weight
If you’re carrying extra weight around your middle, shedding a few pounds can make a big difference to the amount of pressure on your bladder. As an added incentive, losing weight can also help to alleviate almost all other symptoms of menopause.
5. Practice Bladder Training
Bladder training involves holding off for a little while longer before you go to urinate. Done regularly with professional guidance, bladder training can help with both urgency and frequency.
6. Consider Vaginal Estrogens
Some menopause-related urinary symptoms can be treated with vaginal estrogen. Vaginal estrogens are applied directly to the vagina. The boost of hormones in this area can ease symptoms like vaginal dryness and irritation. But it can also have a beneficial effect on your urethra and bladder, too.
Vaginal estrogens aren’t an overnight cure. They can often take up to three months to work, but for many women, the benefits are worth the wait.
7. Talk to Your Doctor
If you have any of the following symptoms, be sure to book an appointment with your doctor. They could be a sign of an underlying condition.
- Blood in your urine
- Frequent urination with increased thirst
- Pain while passing urine
- Pain in your back or abdomen
- Unintentional weight loss
Even if you don’t have any of the additional symptoms above, the best starting point to regain your bladder health is in your doctor’s office. They can rule out any underlying issues. Plus, they can help you find a treatment plan to alleviate your symptoms.
There are three stages of menopause.
Perimenopause is described as the build-up to menopause. During this time, your reproductive cycle is still active, and you continue to have periods. Most women reach this stage around their mid to late 40s; however, some women are younger, and some are older.
In official medical terms, menopause is said to have arrived 12 months after the date of your final period. According to data, the average US woman reaches menopause at the age of 51.
Anything after the date of menopause is classed as your post-menopausal phase.
Bladder symptoms can develop at any time during these menopausal phases. However, they’re more likely to be at their peak when you’re close to official menopause.
Changing hormones means that UTIs are prevalent in women going through menopause. But there are several other risk factors that can increase your chances of developing an infection, including:
Certain types of birth control
A suppressed immune system
A history of recurrent UTIs
Other bladder issues, such as urinary incontinence
Hormone replacement therapy can be an effective treatment for many of the symptoms of menopause, including those related to the bladder. But, HRT comes with the risk of potentially serious side effects.
So, if bladder issues like urgency and incontinence are your only major menopausal concern, it’s best to tackle the problem using lifestyle changes, exercises, and lower-risk medications such as vaginal estrogens.
That being said, if you are struggling with a wide range of menopause symptoms, it’s worth talking to your doctor about HRT. They can assess whether you’re a suitable candidate and help you way up the risks and benefits so you can make an informed choice.
Menopause-related urinary symptoms can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, and they can affect your quality of life.
But it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Urgency, incontinence, and UTIs are all common complaints during menopause, and many women struggle with similar issues.
So, if urinary symptoms are affecting you, speak to your doctor. With the right professional advice and support, you can find a way to manage your symptoms and improve the health of your bladder.
- Overactive bladder and urinary incontinence worsen with age: New study suggests association between age and menopause status with increased urinary symptoms — ScienceDaily
- Menopause and UTIs: Link, treatment, and prevention (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Urinary Tract Infection(UTI): Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment – Urology Care Foundation (urologyhealth.org)
- Pelvic Floor Exercises | Bladder & Bowel Community (bladderandbowel.org)
- Can Dehydration Cause A Urinary Tract Infection? – Urinary Health Journal
- Urinary Incontinence Treatment of Weight Loss (verywellhealth.com)
- Menopause symptoms may be worse for obese women | Reuters
- Urinary Tract Infection | Antibiotic Use | CDC
- Menopause Age: What to Expect, Early Symptoms, and More (healthline.com)