GUEST POST (WRITTEN BY LAURA FROM www.lalaldn.co.uk)
Your mind may be fully loaded with preconceptions about incontinence and conditions of the urinal variety. That's because all of those preconceptions swirling around in your brains are actually misconceptions, invoked by stereotypes and a severe lack of discussion. I've suffered from bladder weakness all my life; it took me years to discuss it with anybody, but look at me now, discussing it overtly for the whole of the world wide web to see! The term 'bladder weakness' is incredibly broad and carries some truly unfortunate connotations, leading to widespread misunderstanding. As a result, it's become such a taboo topic that it's very rarely discussed at all. This often makes it embarrassing and difficult for sufferers to identify and deal with their condition - but one in four women (and one in nine men) will experience bladder weakness at some point during their lifetime. So let's start being more open and discuss an issue that silently impacts a huge proportion of us.
Bladder weakness doesn't have to be the end of the world and there are things that can be done. There are four main types of the condition that are caused by many different things, but it's important to understand the reasons behind each one in order to tackle the issue head on...
Stress Urinary Incontinence: SUI is the most common type of bladder weakness in females. It occurs when the pelvic floor muscles supporting the bladder become weakened, and as a result laughing, coughing and sneezing can increase pressure on the bladder; the pelvic floor muscles fail to tighten enough to retain urine and little accidents happen. This type of bladder weakness is more common after childbirth and in older sufferers, however it can affect men and women of all ages. Did you know, around 40% of young women experience this while exercising?
Functional Incontinence: You can probably guess from its name, but this type of bladder weakness can simply be defined as the inability to reach the toilet in time. This can be due to difficulties brought on by physical or mental illness. This can often be a temporary condition, curable by focusing on fixing the root cause.
Neurological Bladder Weakness: Neurological illnesses and brain injuries such as Dementia, Parkinson's and Multiple Sclerosis can interfere with the communication between the brain and bladder, leading to a loss of control.
Urge Incontinence: Urge incontinence is often simply referred to as an over-active bladder. It affects sufferers by giving them sudden urges to urinate. One minute a sufferer will feel absolutely no need to urinate, and the next urine is involuntarily expelled. This is the type of bladder weakness that I suffer from - there's little to no warning and moderate leakage. If you find that you need to urinate more than six to eight times a day or during the night, this can be a symptom of urge incontinence! The cause of this type of incontinence is unknown, but it is suspected that the bladder muscles send incorrect/incomplete signals to the brain.
Unfortunately, bladder weakness is one of those pesky conditions that is technically incurable. However, that doesn't mean that you should rest on your laurels and just accept the hand that you were dealt. There are various ways of controlling the symptoms of bladder weakness, most of which are lifestyle related. Here are some key things to consider...
Fluid Consumption: Alcohol, fizzy drinks and caffeine are all diuretics (which means they make you visit the toilet more frequently). This doesn't mean you should necessarily avoid them completely, but drink them in moderation! When you're suffering from incontinence, it can be tempting to drink less, but drinking less than your body requires can be dangerous to your health and lead to a whole host of problems - such as dehydration and migraines. You can tell if you're drinking too little from the colour of your urine; it shouldn't be too dark in colour, or particularly cloudy. Aim to drink eight glasses of water a day, tailoring this amount to your lifestyle (you'll need more if you're exercising.)
Weight Gain: There is a link between being overweight and having bladder weakness. Being overweight puts added pressure on most of your vital organs, and your bladder is no exception. Gently exercising multiple times a week will help your body holistically, while reducing the pressure on your bladder in the long term.
Pelvic Floor Exercises: The very thought of pelvic floor exercises sends a shiver down my spine, since I'm a little prudish and a little misinformed. However, I'd recommend watching Holly and Phil talk with Dr Monah, women's physiotherapist Katie Mann and consumer expert Alice Beer about pelvic floor exercises and a new gadget from Elvie (£149) that can help to strengthen your pelvic floor. According to market leading incontinence protection brand Tena, up to 70% of mild to moderate cases can be improved by regular and correct pelvic floor exercises over a period of three to six months.
I would always recommend visiting your GP if you are struggling to control your symptoms. There are over-the-counter medicines (such as Urestemol) to help prevent an over-active bladder, but your GP will be able to advise you on the best course of action. However, my advice is just to play it safe. Avoid complicated clothing (such as jumpsuits) or anything that's tricky to get undone in a hurry. Always use the toilet before you leave the house, and if you're going somewhere new or on a trip, find out where and when you will be able to use the toilet to avoid getting yourself worked up in the moment. For added confidence, you may prefer to use incontinence pads such as Tena Lady - they differ from sanitary towels as they're thinner and more discreet, have a higher level of odour control, and are more absorbent.
I used to find it difficult to talk about my bladder weakness, but I've become more confident with age. I think becoming sexually active played a huge part in talking more openly about my condition, as before this I was the only person who needed to know. However, it's a bit hard to keep an in-the-undies secret from somebody who is literally in your undies! What used to be an embarrassing predicament has now become the source of some hilarity and banter amongst my friends, proving that this issue is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. The main way I control my symptoms may be controversial, but it's always worked for me: mind over matter. My symptoms are always worse when I know I'm nearing a toilet; the closer I get to a loo, the less my bladder wants to hold on! I learned a silly little trick that's worked wonders for me: 'think of camels.' My logic is that camels live in the desert; the desert is dry and there are no fluids. I have no idea why this works, but it does; I guess it's a distraction method as the urge seems to die down.
If you have bladder weakness, don't be ashamed to discuss it with those closest to you. Don't be afraid to book an appointment with your GP to talk about your options. Bladder weakness is incredibly common and you are not alone! If you know somebody else with bladder weakness: be supportive. Allow them to visit the toilet as frequently as they like, as annoying as it may be for you to keep stopping or being left alone to sip your coffee mid-chat. We can tackle these taboos together and prove that, with up to 25% of the population suffering from bladder problems and pelvic floor weakness, it's time to talk about it.
Check out the Tena website for lots of helping information and advice.
Written by Laura from www.lalaldn.co.uk (Edited by Hayley from LBQ)
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