One of the many things that estrogen helps to do in a woman’s body is keep the lining of the bladder and the urethra healthy. When estrogen levels diminish during menopause, some women develop urinary incontinence, otherwise known as bladder control issues. It’s estimated that about 16% to 18% of postmenopausal women develop urinary incontinence. Other things that damage a woman’s pelvic floor muscles include pregnancy, childbirth and weight gain.
There are several types of incontinence described as:
Stress Incontinence – The most common kind of bladder control problem in older women. Weakened muscles can’t hold back urine when you cough, exercise, sneeze, laugh, or lift something heavy. The result can be a small leakage of urine or a complete loss of control. This type of incontinence is most often caused by physical changes that result from pregnancy, childbirth, or menopause.
Urge Incontinence – When your bladder muscles squeeze incorrectly or lose the ability to relax, you may feel a constant urge to urinate, even when your bladder is empty. You may also experience leaking of urine or loss of control. This is sometimes called an “overactive bladder”.
Overflow incontinence – When your bladder does not empty fully, this type of UI can show as continuous urine dribbling. You can have a weak urinary stream, feel like urinating at night (nocturia), and increased urinary hesitancy. This can be caused by underactivity of the bladder muscle.
What can women do about bladder control issues?
The first treatment option is to try some lifestyle changes:
- Limiting caffeine consumption
- Avoiding bladder irritants such as alcohol, carbonated beverages, and spicy foods
- Strengthening pelvic muscles with Kegel exercises.
Other treatment options you can discuss with your healthcare provider include:
- Electrical stimulation of the pelvic muscles
- Devices that can be inserted to help to hold up the bladder or to block leakage in the urethra
- Localized estrogen in the form of a cream, pill or ring
There are many products on the market today that can help women with minor bladder control issues including pads and disposable underwear. These can help alleviate the worry about a little leakage when you sneeze or laugh or if you’re rushing to the restroom, but may not make it there in time.
In addition to traditional treatment, some people consider alternative treatments for bladder issues.
- Acupuncture/electroacupuncture: This therapy involves inserting needles into specific points in the body that affect the nerves and muscles involved in bladder control.
- Hypnotherapy: A form of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy is used to create subconscious changes in the form of new responses, thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. This access to the subconscious mind is thought to reestablish the connection between the bladder and the brain.
- Reflexology: Reflexology massage targets reflex points on the feet, hands, and head used to relieve tension and treat illness. To treat UI, for example, the practitioner might massage the kidney point.
Talk with your doctor or healthcare provider to learn more about your condition and treatment options.