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For words you might want to know more
A urinary tract infection (UTI) can affect your bladder (cystitis), urethra (urethritis) or kidneys (kidney infection). They happen when harmful bacteria like E. coli enter your urinary tract and cause infection.
When you have an overactive bladder, the muscle that signals that the bladder is full starts over-reacting and sending messages to the brain to start emptying. This is why it may feel like your bladder cannot hold as much fluid as it should, and feels full even when it’s not.
A group of muscles, ligaments and other tissue that stretch back to front (from your pubic bone to your backbone) and side to side. Think of your pelvic floor as a hammock that holds up all your pelvic organs, including your bladder, bowel and uterus.
Bladder problems like urinary tract infections (UTIs) or unwanted leaks are common issues for women of all ages. It’s a common misconception that things like bladder weakness only affect women as they age, but bladder health starts when you’re just a baby and continues throughout your life. It’s true that the likelihood of a bladder condition increases at different stages, but it’s not just down to age!
Our bladder habits, quirks and life events like pregnancy can all play a role in the development of problems. These are not a normal part of ageing and they are also not inevitable. Healthy bladder habits are crucial and can prevent — or even reverse — issues like bladder weakness.
Let’s have a look at how your bladder health can change throughout your life.
As a baby, you can’t control emptying your bladder — you don’t start to learn how to do this until about two years old, and you only fully achieve bladder control around the age of four.
Problems during toilet training can sometimes affect you in later life. Experiencing lots of UTIs during childhood can increase the risk of an overactive bladder in adulthood.
As a teenager, it’s mainly your bladder habits that sometimes lead to urinary tract infections. This is more common in girls because women have shorter urethras than men, which makes infections more likely.
Other “bad” bladder habits include not taking toilet breaks, not drinking enough fluids, not treating constipation, and wiping from back to front. Some research even shows that teenagers sometimes avoid bathroom facilities at school because they’re not private or clean, or they’re a place where bullying takes place. What’s more, teachers sometimes stop teenagers from taking toilet breaks during lessons. All of these can lead to toilet troubles and UTIs.
About 50% of women will have a UTI at some point in their lives – and that risk increases if you’re sexually active. Although UTIs are not technically a sexually transmitted infection (STI), they can be triggered by sex, spermicide and contraceptive methods like diaphragms. A good way to prevent this is by simply peeing after sex. Practising safe sex is also important because STIs can get into the urethra and even travel into the bladder, causing UTIs.
The pelvic floor can become weaker during pregnancy, and increased pressure and damage during delivery can hurt the pelvic organs. One in three women may experience bladder leaks in the first three months after giving birth, especially when coughing, sneezing or laughing. That’s because these actions increase pressure on a weak pelvic floor. Luckily, pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy, along with other techniques, can reduce or prevent this.
UTIs and bladder weakness is common side effect of menopause — but it doesn’t have to be!
During menopause, your body gradually stops producing the hormone oestrogen. A decrease in oestrogen can affect bladder function and cause more leaks. Loss of oestrogen can cause vaginal atrophy, where the vaginal skin gets thin, dry and inflamed, which can also lead to more UTIs.
Sleep issues associated with menopause are also known to have a big impact, and sleep changes such as night sweats can all increase women’s need to pee during the night.
No matter how old you are, bladder health can affect your overall health and day to day life. It’s never too early — or too late — to take care of your bladder!
Poor bladder health shouldn’t be a “normal” part of ageing or childbirth — that’s why we created the Bladder Care Handbook: our guide to life’s trickly moments. Download your free copy for expert tips on how to look after your bladder.