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Many women start to experience bladder symptoms during the menopause transition, but these aren’t inevitable and do not need to be accepted as the new norm. There are lots of positive things you can do and treatments that can help.
The most common symptoms you might experience are:
Falling oestrogen levels in our bodies play a big part. We need oestrogen for healthy tissue in the bladder, the urethra (drainage tube from the bladder), the vagina and its supports in the pelvis.
The loss of oestrogen during the menopause transition makes the tissue in your bladder more sensitive and delicate. Instead of happily expanding as it fills with urine (like filling a balloon with water), the bladder gets irritated and tries to empty before filling. This can lead to discomfort and pain.
As well as the bladder, the urethra and vagina are affected also – this is called urogenital atrophy.
Stress incontinence is caused by weak muscles in the pelvic floor. This can worsen in the perimenopause and menopause, but other important risk factors include childbirth, increasing age and carrying extra weight around.
Any condition that puts extra pressure on the bladder can make stress incontinence worse, including straining to open your bowels (constipation), having a chronic, prolonged cough or being very overweight.
We can only estimate how many women suffer bladder symptoms during the menopause transition because so many do not report them.
In a study by the British Menopause Society, around a third of women interviewed (aged 45-65) reported symptoms in the bladder related to the menopause.
Other studies have estimated that up to two-thirds of women in their mid-70s experience symptoms in the vagina and bladder related to loss of oestrogen.
Bladder symptoms become more likely as you get older, as the effects of lack of oestrogen on the bladder take their toll. It’s less likely that you’ll start to experience bladder symptoms in the perimenopause.
The perimenopause starts in the mid-to-late 40s and the average age of the menopause in the UK is 51 years. You can read more about the stages of the menopause here.
There are several things you can do to help with your bladder symptoms:
It’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Speaking to a healthcare professional may help reassure you. They can check your urine for infection, and your blood and glucose to rule out other conditions that can cause bladder symptoms.
It’s important to speak to a doctor about new bladder symptoms, particularly if you see blood in your urine, if you’re passing urine frequently with increased thirst, if you have unintentional weight loss, if you have pain when passing urine or if you have pain in your abdomen or back.
Do your pelvic floor exercises like you’re training for a marathon! They can help prevent leaking from getting worse. Physiotherapy, pilates, pelvic floor exercises (or Kegels) all help to strengthen the supports of the bladder. You can also buy pelvic floor gadgets that may help.
Both alcohol and caffeine can increase the volume of urine you make, and also make the bladder more irritable. Both these factors increase the frequency with which you need to pass urine. Try switching to herbal or decaffeinated tea and coffee for a while and see if it helps – it often does.
You may be tempted to drink less to avoid filling your bladder, but this is never a good idea. It leads to dehydration and, in the long run, the volume your bladder can hold may decrease.
We know it’s easy to say, and harder to action, but losing weight really will take the pressure off your bladder and help with incontinence symptoms. Our partners at Her Spirit can help with exercise plans.
Training can help limit the urgency and frequency of needing to dash to the loo. It just means ‘hanging on’ for a little while before you go. This trains your bladder not to empty so frequently. Bladder training is usually supervised by trained physiotherapists. Your GP should be able to refer you locally.
Where bladder symptoms are caused by urogenital atrophy (changes in the tissue of your bladder, urethra and vagina caused by lack of oestrogen), you may be offered HRT. HRT contains oestrogen, which helps improve the bladder and urethral tissues made more delicate by the menopause.
If you have other symptoms of the menopause, systemic HRT (patches, tablets, gels and sprays) can be helpful. If your symptoms are related to the bladder and/or vagina only, you may prefer to use a vaginal oestrogen only.
Around a quarter of women who use systemic HRT need to use a vaginal oestrogen also.
You can read more about HRT here.
Another way to boost your oestrogen levels in the bladder and vagina is through oestrogen in the form of a cream, pessary or ring, all of which are used directly in the vagina. This type of treatment can be prescribed by your doctor. These types of oestrogens help the bladder and urethra as they lie close in front of the vagina.
|Vagifem TM||Tiny pessary with applicator|
|Imvaggis TM||Small pessary. No applicator – you insert it yourself into the vagina. Melts, which some women find moisturising.|
|Ovestin cream (Estriol 0.1%) TM||Cream. Comes with a washable applicator, but you could measure out the applicator dose and use your finger instead.|
|Estriol 0.01% cream||Cream. Comes with a washable applicator, but you could measure out the applicator dose and use your finger instead.|
|Blissel TM||The lowest dose of vaginal oestrogen. This comes with an applicator.|
|Estring TM||A flexible ring that is fitted into the vagina, releasing oestrogen for three months. You can still continue to have sex with this fitted.|
If you’re worried about bladder symptoms, you should see your GP. To talk about your bladder symptoms in the context of the menopause, book an appointment with our menopause clinic.
Dr Clare Spencer
Registered menopause specialist, GP and co-founder
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Source: source: Currie H, Moger SJ. Menopause – Understanding the impact on women and their partners. Post Reprod Health. 2019 Dec;25(4):183-190.
Source: Samsioe G, Jansson I, Mellström D, et al. Occurrence, nature and treatment of urinary incontinence in a 70-year-old female population. Maturitas. 1985 Nov;7(4):335-42.
Source: Palacios S. Managing urogenital atrophy. Maturitas. 2009 Aug 20;63(4):315-8.