Do you have a "going" problem? By that I mean do you have to urinate more often than you ever did before? One of my patients recently described his anxiety about searching for a bathroom because he feared he wouldn't make it in time. He said he could barely get through two holes of golf without finding a wooded area to relieve himself.
I know this is a private matter that most people don't like to talk about. Sometimes known as the "closet disorder", overactive bladder is a growing problem in both men and women and increasingly prevalent as you age. Did you know that overactive bladder affects an estimated one in 11 adults in the United States? In two large studies it was found that about 1 in 6 adults reported some symptoms of an overactive bladder. About 1 in 3 people with an overactive bladder have episodes of urge incontinence.
According to the Journal of Urology less than half of women and one-quarter of men who experience bladder problems ever seek help from their doctors. Instead they find ways of coping with the problem like mapping out the closest toilets when shopping, visiting public places, or socializing. Making adjustments in your life for your "going" problem puts a burden on you and those around you. Living with an overactive bladder can cause feelings of depression and helplessness.
What Does Age Have To Do With It?
By definition an overactive bladder is the leakage of large amounts of urine at unexpected times, including during sleep. It results from sudden, involuntary contraction of the muscle in the wall of the urinary bladder.
Many people are under the impression that bladder problems are just a sign of aging. This is not necessarily the case however. We do know that as you age your chances of developing bladder dysfunction is more likely due to diseases that put you at risk such as enlarged prostate and diabetes. But it doesn't mean that older adults have to suffer with incontinence or overactive bladder as a normal part of aging.
Although there is no known cure for an overactive bladder the prognosis for controlling the disorder is very promising. The good news is that after a brief evaluation to determine the cause, treatments can be prescribed to help alleviate your symptoms and give you a new lease on life.
Signs of an Overactive Bladder
Just because you feel the urge to urinate more frequently does not necessarily mean you have an overactive bladder. The following signs and symptoms of overactive bladder as listed by the Mayo Clinic may help you determine whether or not to contact your doctor.
- You feel a strong, sudden urge to urinate
- You experience urge incontinence, the involuntary loss of urine immediately following an urgent need to urinate
- You urinate frequently, usually eight or more times in 24 hours
- You awaken two or more times in the night to urinate
- Although you may be able to get to the toilet in time when you sense an urge to urinate, frequent and nighttime urination, as well as the need to suddenly "drop everything," can definitely disrupt your life.
Why Suffer In Silence?
Your doctor may recommend a combination of treatment strategies to help relieve you of your bladder problem. Why suffer in silence when you could be feeling better? Here are just a few lifestyle changes you can make to better manage an overactive bladder:
- Limit caffeine and alcohol due to their diuretic effect (will make urine form more often). Caffeine may also directly stimulate the bladder to make urgency symptoms worse.
- Drink normal quantities of fluids each day; about 6-8 cups of fluid and more in hot weather.
- Urinate only when necessary. Urinating too often gets the bladder used to holding less urine and it may then become even more sensitive at times when it is stretched a little. Delay voiding when you feel the urge to urinate gradually working your way up to urinating every three to five hours.
- Make sure you have plenty of fiber in your diet as constipation is often associated with bladder problems.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity increases the intensity of an overactive bladder. Losing weight helps to relieve the urge to urinate and lessens the risk of urinary incontinence.
Natural Remedies May Help
Your doctor may recommend medications that reduce leakage or inhibit contractions of an overactive bladder. Some drugs actually relax muscles, leading to more complete emptying of the bladder during urination.
You may also benefit from trying natural remedies that have been known to aid in the relief of bladder dysfunction. Here are just a few:
- Magnesium is a mineral believed to be essential for muscle health. Some doctors now believe it also helps control spasms that prevent the bladder from emptying completely. Incomplete emptying is responsible for leaks, drips, and dribbles in both men and women. Taken at bedtime, magnesium may also help with nocturnal incontinence by controlling urges to urinate during the night.
- Cornsilk contains the natural chemicals maysin and carvacrol as well as flavonoids and polyphenols and is believed to have a detoxifying, relaxing, and diuretic effect on the bladder.
- Cranberry Extract is known for its prevention of urinary tract infections and overall health benefits. There is scientific evidence to support the use of cranberries to reduce the risk of E. coli adhesion to bladder cells and the onset of infection.
Don't be one of the millions of Americans that suffer with bladder problems just because it is too private a matter. Consult your doctor if you think you may have an overactive bladder or incontinence issue. Make sure you have your problem diagnosed before you try any natural treatment. Reduce your risk of further complications by choosing to live a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly, and limiting your consumption of caffeine and alcohol.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Institute For Healthy Aging