Bladder Control What Women Need to Know

Who is likely to have bladder control problems?

About half of adult women say they have had urine leakage at one time or another. Many women say the problem occurs daily.

Often women leak urine when they are pregnant or after they have given birth.

Women who have stopped having their periods-menopause-often report bladder control problems.

Many women leak urine when they exercise, laugh hard, cough, or sneeze.

What causes bladder control problems in women?

Urine leakage has many possible causes.

  • Weak muscles. Most bladder control problems are caused by weak pelvic muscles-the muscles that hold the bladder in place. These muscles may become stretched and weak during pregnancy and childbirth. The sphincters-muscles that keep the bladder closed until you urinate-may also be weakened.

  • Nerve damage. Damaged nerves may send signals to the bladder at the wrong time, causing the bladder to push out urine without warning. Or damaged nerves send no signals at all, so the brain can't tell when the bladder is full. Trauma or diseases such as diabetes can cause nerve damage.

  • Medicines, alcohol, and caffeine. Leaking can happen when medicines or alcohol affect the nerves or muscles. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee or cola cause the bladder to fill quickly, which may cause the bladder to leak.

  • Infection. A urinary tract infection can irritate bladder nerves and cause the bladder to squeeze without warning.

  • Excess weight. Being overweight can put pressure on the bladder and contribute to leakage.

What can I do about bladder control problems?

Just changing some daily habits may help. If you tend to leak urine at certain times of the day, you can make trips to the bathroom ahead of time to avoid an accident. If you notice that certain foods and drinks cause you to urinate more often, try avoiding them.

Don't be embarrassed to talk with your doctor about your problem. Your doctor may prescribe a medicine that can calm muscles and nerves to treat an overactive bladder. If your leakage is caused by weak muscles, your doctor or nurse can help you learn to do exercises to strengthen your pelvic muscles. Or your doctor may fit you with a device worn in the vagina that helps lift the bladder. If other treatments fail, your doctor may suggest surgery to improve bladder control.

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