As some women get older, they experience problems with their bladder, including the frequent urge to urinate and, in some cases, trouble holding it in until they get to the bathroom. Many older women tend to have a weak bladder or incontinence due to body changes such as a menopause or from having children earlier in life.
Normal Bladder Function
The bladder is a muscle that holds urine located in the pelvis. It’s held in place the by the muscles on the pelvic floor. When it becomes full, the bladder contracts, indicating that it is time to urinate. The urine leaves the body through the urethra, a thin tube. Muscles known as sphincters hold the urethra closed so that urine does not leak out. Nerve signals go from the bladder to the brain to alert a woman that it’s time to use the restroom. When the muscles are weak or the nerves are damaged, a woman can have symptoms of a weak bladder.
Causes of a Weak Bladder
A weak bladder in older women is usually caused by a number of environmental factors as well as physical problems. Post-menopausal women produce less estrogen than younger women. A loss of hormones can lead to deterioration of the bladder, according to the Mayo Clinic. Older women are also more likely to have had a hysterectomy, which could possibly damage the pelvic floor and cause bladder troubles. Bladder problems can also stem from drug and alcohol use as well as smoking. The stress of pregnancy can also weaken the bladder muscles. Some neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis can cause incontinence.
Signs of a Weak Bladder
The most common sign of a weak bladder is stress incontinence. Stress in this case refers to a physical strain on the bladder, such as one that occurs when a woman laughs very hard or coughs. The cough or laugh pushes on the bladder. If the bladder is healthy and strong, it can handle these stresses. But a weak bladder is not able to stay contracted during the stress. As a result, a small amount of urine will leak out.
Many women with a weak bladder benefit from performing Kegel exercises, which strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. During Kegel exercises, you squeeze the muscles that you use to stop urination for intervals of 10 seconds. You repeat the process 10 to 20 times, up to three times a day, according to Family Doctor. You may need to see a physical therapist to figure out which muscle is the right one to squeeze. Once you get the hang of Kegels, you can do them anytime, anywhere without anyone noticing.
If Kegel exercises are not effective, several other treatments are available for a weak bladder. If the weakness is caused by a lack of estrogen, a topical estrogen cream may help prevent stress incontinence. A plastic ring known as a pessary can be used to support the bladder. Pessaries can be worn all the time or only during stressful activities, such as exercise.