The effect of aging on your bladder

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The effect of aging on your bladder

Aging brings many physical changes we expect – gray hair, wrinkles, arthritis, are all obvious. But as the years go by, there is another part of your body that also ages – your urinary tract and specifically your bladder.

Bladder changes can manifest themselves in several ways, more than we may realize.  That’s why now is the time to learn about what you can do to take steps to cope with and ultimately, improve your bladder health.

Here are several changes within the bladder that may occur with age and what you can do about it:

·      Aging may cause changes in the urethra

The urethra is the vessel responsible for transporting urine from the bladder to an external opening in the perineum. In men, the urethra is approximately 15-20 centimeters long and provides an exit for semen.  In women, the urethra is much shorter – approximately 4 centimeters – its purpose is to transport urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.

As both men and women age, changes can occur affecting the urethra.  For men, it is not unusual for the walnut-sized prostate gland which surrounds the urethra to enlarge, causing several specific symptoms. For women, weakened pelvic muscles may lead to the bladder’s slipping out of place, which could lead to difficulty emptying the bladder. Both of these problems can block the flow of urine.  Symptoms of this could include abdominal pain, difficulty passing urine, or in some cases, bleeding or discharge. Anyone having such symptoms should see their doctor right away to see if there is an obstruction. 

·      Aging may lead to bladder wall stiffening

With age, the muscles lining your bladder can become weaker and less flexible.  This loss of strength and stretchiness means your bladder may not empty fully when you go to the bathroom. Any problems with voiding needs to be checked out by a specialist like a urologist to make a proper diagnosis.

·      Aging may mean more infections

When it comes to bladder infections, women are more likely to develop them.  About 10 percent of postmenopausal women will experience a urinary tract infection each year. Older women are more likely to experience strong urges to urinate, have leakage, and lower back and abdominal pain. There are several ways to prevent bladder infections which include drinking plenty of water – six to eight ounce glasses per day – and to wear cotton underwear. Women can also help prevent bladder infections by wiping from front to back after using the restroom and to empty their bladder after having sex.

·      Aging may result in more leakage and bladder stones

Incontinence is the accidental or involuntary loss of urine from the bladder.  Unfortunately, this potentially embarrassing and frustrating condition is more common the older you get. But, it does not have to be an accepted part of aging. Talk with your doctor about whether lifestyle changes, medications, or surgery can help relieve your symptoms.

Bladder stones are another possible condition aging can increase your risk for.  These painful, hard crystals of minerals build up inside your bladder and are more common in men than women.  If you have small stones, increasing fluid intake – especially water – can help them to pass. Other larger stones can be removed using a small tube that passes through the urethra or during surgery.

·      Aging increases the risk for bladder cancer

The sixth most common cancer in the United States is bladder cancer. Men are affected by this type of cancer far more than women but all of us are at an increased risk as we age. Factors that increase a person’s risk include smoking, exposure to chemicals in the workplace, and family history.

Symptoms of bladder cancer include blood in your urine, pain when you urinate, having to bear down to empty your bladder, and low back pain. Even though these symptoms can also be signal other health problems, anyone experiencing them should see their doctor to determine the cause and begin treatment if needed.