Rumor has it that life actually begins at 40! That’s right, the gray hairs and the slight creak of your bones signifies that you’ve accumulated assets, memories, and wisdom. While you recognize that this of season of your life may involve night sweats, fatigue, and alarming hot flashes, you still have much to be grateful for. However, there’s just this one thing you weren’t expecting. Nobody told you about the bladder leakage that could accompany menopause — wasn’t incontinence supposed to be an old person problem? Or, is it possible that you’re the only one experiencing this? Trust us, you’re not! We’ll enlighten you on this one menopause symptom that others may not have warned you about.
Menopause typically occurs in women between the ages of 45 and 55, but it can also take place before or after this age range. Sometimes referred to as “the change”, menopause indicates that a woman has not had a period in 12 consecutive months. During menopause, there is a decrease in ovarian follicles and the ovaries become less responsive to certain hormones, specifically Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH). Both of these hormones help with reproduction and regulate your estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels.
Aging ovaries ultimately release fewer hormones, which results in a significant drop to ones estrogen levels. Estrogen depletion affects the entire body including the heart, bones, skin, and the urinary system.
Whew, ok. Enough about hormones for a minute.
Bladder Leakage and Menopause
Although it’s not often talked about, bladder leakage is common for those going through menopause. In fact, a study of 3000 women ages 42 to 64 revealed that 68 percent of the women in the group experienced bladder leakage at least once a month! That means you’re in good company — and probably that this is something that impacts a lot of your friends, too. With a decline in estrogen, the urethra becomes less elastic, thinner, and drier, which ultimately leads to an increased need to go.
Estrogen plays a significant role in pelvic collagen synthesis and elastin, which provides strength and flexibility to the pelvic floor muscles. So, having less estrogen results in decreased strength of the pelvic supportive ligaments. And weakened pelvic floor muscles lead to those dreaded leaks.
Two other common causes of leaks during menopause include:
- Weight gain – The ‘middle age spread’ occurs from a mix of hormonal changes, lifestyle, and genetics. Muscle mass decreases and fat increases with age. This extra weight not only bums us out but can put strain on the bladder too.
- Pelvic prolapse – This occurs when the bladder, bowel, or uterus begins sagging down against the pelvic floor. The depletion of estrogen during menopause thins the support structures that hold the pelvic organs in place, which causes them to fall. This extra stress on the pelvic floor increases the urge to go.
Two Main Types of Bladder Leakage
There are two main types of bladder leakage: stress incontinence and urge incontinence, to use the technical terms. Stress incontinence happens when urine leaks out while doing an activity such as lifting, laughing, or coughing. However, it doesn’t have anything to do with being ‘stressed out’, as its name implies. In fact, the stress has more to do with physical strain. When laughing, you naturally increase the pressure put on the abdomen, which also puts strain on the bladder. This type of bladder leakage is common for middle aged women and those that have had a vaginal birth. The weakened pelvic floor muscles makes it difficult to hold in urine.
Urge incontinence, on the other hand, occurs when you have a strong urge to urinate even when your bladder is not full. The urge to urinate comes about suddenly and sometimes includes the loss of urine before one can reach the restroom. This type of bladder leakage is caused by rogue bladder muscle contractions. Often times, urge incontinence is a result of another physical problem in the body, such as issues with the spine, nerves, or brain. A large majority of the women diagnosed with this condition are actually postmenopausal.
Does Bladder Leakage Go Away After Menopause?
You’ll be glad to know that the majority of bladder leakage cases can be greatly improved with a little effort. You don’t have to stop doing the activities you enjoy or let bladder leakage slow you down. However, you should assess your current lifestyle and see if there’s anything you can do differently to improve bladder control.
What You Can Do About Bladder Leakage
The following tips can help you regain bladder control:
Change Your Diet
There may be certain foods or beverages in your diet that enhance your urge to urinate. Having a cup of Joe every morning or drinking alcohol can make your bladder feel full much more quickly. The result is an increased urge to urinate more often. Check out our article on which foods and drinks trigger bladder leakage.
Several published research studies suggest that losing weight can greatly reduce bladder leakage in women who are overweight and obese. For example, one study compared a group of 338 women, where 226 did a weight loss program and 112 followed an education program. Individuals that followed the weight loss program and lost 5 percent or more of their body weight had much greater percent reductions in urinary incontinence episodes. In fact, they were more likely to achieve at least a 70 percent reduction in the frequency of bladder leakage episodes at 6, 12, and 18 months.
Do Pelvic Floor Exercises
Exercising your pelvic floor muscles, like Kegels, can do wonders for bladder leakage. The great thing about these exercises is that you can incorporate them into your daily routine anytime and anywhere. All you have to do is squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and hold the contraction for five to ten seconds, and then relax for the same amount of time. Repeat these a few times and see if you notice any improvements. Or, for more options, check out our guide on pelvic floor exercises.
Find A Bladder Leak Product That Works For You
Another option to consider using bladder leak products. These products allow busy women like you to continue their daily activities with peace of mind and confidence. You can put those spritz and sprinkles in check with discreet and comfortable products that come right to your door.
Don’t Let Menopause and Bladder Leakage Stop You
Menopause alone is not the only cause of bladder control problems but it’s one of the biggest ones. If bladder leakage is concerning you, then consider what you can do to reduce its impact. You don’t have to live in fear or walk around believing that you’re alone. At least 1 in 4 women over 35 have weak bladders and they live normal lives, so you can too.
Got advice for other menopausal women on how to manage the urges and drips? Share it in the comments!
By Jessica Thomas, MPH