Updated 22 July 2019

How to keep your bladder happy – and prevent future incontinence

How often do you think about the health of your bladder? It’s important to keep this organ healthy if you want to prevent conditions like urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections.

We're seldom aware of our bladders unless we really need to pee. Your urinary bladder, a pear-shaped, muscular sac just above your pelvic region, is where urination is regulated and controlled. If something goes wrong with this important organ, it can affect the health of other organs like your kidneys, as urine is filtered by the kidneys.

While bladder health is not often discussed, the bladder works hard – an adult passes about a litre and a half of urine through the bladder. But as we get older, our bladder may change, which can lead to urinary incontinence and other conditions. Fortunately there are ways to keep the bladder healthy for longer:

1. Drink enough water – and less caffeine and alcohol

It’s a guideline as old as time itself, i.e. that we need to drink at least eight glasses of water (2l) per day – differing from person to person depending on their overall health, size and level of activity. Water is the most important liquid for bladder health. With the help of water, healthy kidneys do a great job of filtering bacteria, acids and other toxins out of the body. Water will not irritate the bladder, unlike beverages containing caffeine or alcohol.

But what if you suffer from urinary incontinence? Shouldn’t you be drinking less water to avoid accidental leaking? The answer is no – avoiding water is ineffective, as dehydration will only irritate your bladder more and negatively affect your overall health.

2. Don’t hold in your pee

Holding in your pee will not increase the strength of your bladder – it may, in fact, weaken your bladder muscles over time. Bacteria may build up, leading to bladder or urinary tract infections. It will also increase the risk of kidney infections and, in the rarest of cases, your bladder could literally burst.

3. Keep your weight within a healthy range

As we grow older, our metabolism slows down, and we simply can’t shake the weight off as fast as we used to. Those extra kilograms can take their toll on your body and the bladder. The more you weigh, the more pressure you put on your pelvic floor, which can eventually lead to stress incontinence. If you are concerned about excess weight, consult a dietitian to help you make healthy food choices.

4. Exercise

Not only will a healthy amount of exercise (at least 30 minutes per day) keep your weight within a healthy range, but the muscle strength of your whole body, including your pelvic region, will improve, which can prevent bladder issues.

5. Urinate after sex

Both women and men should always urinate after sexual intercourse to flush out any bacteria that may have entered the urethra and could cause infections.

6. Don’t be rushed when you pee

It takes time to fully drain your bladder. Relax and ensure that every last drop is out before you zip up. Any urine left in the bladder will retreat back into the urethra, which could cause infections. Also, wipe from the front to the back and not the other way around.

7. Stop smoking

The effect of smoking on the bladder is discussed at length in a previous Health24 article. The reason why cigarette smoking can be linked to urinary incontinence and other bladder problems is not exactly clear, says urogynaecologist Dr Sharon Knight. “Some explanations have been proposed, such as nicotine-induced bladder contractility and some other toxins that can be bladder irritants."

As smoking has been linked to many chronic diseases and damage of the body in several ways – it’s clear that the bladder can also become collateral damage.

Image credit: iStock


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Incontinence Expert

Dr Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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