4 Ways to Protect Your Bladder Health

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If you're like most people, you probably haven't thought much about your bladder. It isn't until something goes wrong — usually later in life — that many of us begin to pay attention to this hollow organ located in our lower abdomen.

Bladder problems can arise with age. As we get older, our bladder can become less effective at holding in urine; plus, the bladder wall and pelvic floor muscles (which are located under the uterus, bladder, and bowel) can weaken, causing leakages and more, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Common bladder issues for women include incontinence (an inability to hold in urine) and urinary tract infections (UTIs), says Josip Vukina, MD, a urologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "After menopause, a lot of women will have a spike in urinary tract infections," he says, in part because they experience "some atrophy or shrinkage of the vaginal tissue, which becomes less of a barrier for infection."

Men can also develop UTIs too, along with blockages: "As men get older, the prostate continues to grow and can cause more issues with obstruction," says Vukina. "And if men aren't emptying well, that residual urine stays in the bladder and is prone to infection."

While some people might be more genetically prone to certain bladder issues, he says, there are a few lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of problems.

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1. Up your water intake. Increasing the amount of fluid you drink throughout the day can help dilute even small amounts of bacteria that might be present in your urine, lowering your risk of UTIs, says Vukina. (At least half of your fluid intake should be water, says the National Institute on Aging, but talk to your doctor to determine how much you should you be drinking.)

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2. Eat more fiber. People who are prone to constipation may also be more likely to experience bladder problems, according to the National Institute on Aging. That's because a build-up of stool can put pressure on the bladder, which can prevent people from going to the bathroom properly. If you're having trouble staying regular, try eating more high-fiber foods, like peas, raspberries, and lentils.

3. Don't "hold it." People should try go to the bathroom at least every 3 to 4 hours, recommends the National Institute on Aging. Holding it in not only weakens the bladder muscles, but because you're not urinating frequently, it can also set you up for infections.

Women should try to relax the muscles around the bladder when they do go; "hovering" doesn't allow the muscles to relax, which can leave some urine in the bladder.

4. Do pelvic floor muscle exercises. Doing Kegel exercises can strengthen your pelvic floor, which can keep urine from leaking out when you cough, laugh, or sneeze, says the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases. They aren't just for women, either — men can benefit from doing them, too.

If you are experiencing bladder issues, talk to your doctor about them. "This isn't some rare

issue that there isn't help for," says Vukina, who encourages people to visit their primary care doctor, OB/GYN, or urologist. "There are options to get help."

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