Chances are you probably don’t think much about your bladder. In fact, if it’s working well, you probably don’t think about it at all.
WellTuned spoke with Dr. Lakisha Crigler, a medical director at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, to uncover helpful information about your bladder and how to keep it healthy.
Interesting Facts About Your Bladder
Dr. Crigler: You may not think much about your bladder, but your bladder is a crucial part of your urinary system. The bladder stores the urine that’s created by your kidneys and holds it until your body excretes it through the urethra through urination. Think of it as a holding tank. When it works well, it works well. However, you can develop numerous conditions that affect your bladder.
Check out these interesting facts about this organ:
Your bladder can hold up to two cups of urine. On average, the bladder can store about 500 mL of urine in females and about 700 mL of urine in males. It takes your body about 10 hours to produce that much urine.
More than 30 million people in the U.S. struggle with overactive bladder (OAB). These people experience the sudden or uncontrollable urge to urinate. And they often leak urine when they can’t make it to the toilet in time.
If you pee when you cough, you’re not alone. Urinary incontinence occurs when you can’t maintain control over the process of passing urine. You may release a small amount of urine when you cough, laugh or sneeze. Women are more likely to develop it than men. And in fact, about one in three females experience incontinence at some point in their lives. Other risk factors include:
- pregnancy and childbirth
- prostate surgery
- chronic coughing
- being overweight
Bladder cancer is the sixth most common cancer. About 81,000 new cases of bladder cancer are diagnosed each year. It’s more common in males than in females, and people who’ve had it once are more likely to develop it again.
It’s normal to urinate between four and eight times per day. It’s also normal to need to go up to twice during the night. More than that, and it could be a sign that something’s not quite right with your bladder. So, you do need to listen to your body, and don’t ignore any changes that occur. They could be a sign of a developing infection or other medical condition, including bladder cancer.
It’s not normal to experience pain when you pee. If you experience pain or a burning sensation when you urinate, it could be a sign of a urinary tract infection. Other potential signs of bladder problems or infections include:
- cloudy urine
- urine leaks
- the need to urinate more frequently or urgently than normal
- trouble emptying your bladder completely
- a weak stream of urine
If you experience any of those symptoms, contact your healthcare provider right away.
Blood in your urine can be a warning sign of bladder cancer. Also known as hematuria, blood in your urine can also be a sign of a other problems, such as:
- urinary tract infection,
- kidney infection,
- kidney or bladder stone
- injury to one of your kidneys
Even some medications, like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can increase your chances of developing urinary bleeding. Don’t dismiss or ignore the situation if you notice a red tinge to your urine.
How to keep your bladder healthy
Dr. Crigler: As we get older, our bladders age, too. And just as your muscles get weaker as you get older, your bladder weakens as well. That’s why you need to be intentional about keeping your bladder healthy.
Consider these steps:
- Drink plenty of water. The Urology Care Foundation suggests guzzling six to eight cups of water (8 oz. each) every day as a general rule.
- Don’t hold your urine. If you need to go, go! If you “hold it” for long periods of time, it can weaken your bladder muscles and increase your chances of developing a bladder infection, too.
- Completely empty your bladder when urinating. Make sure you attempt to get it all out every time you use the toilet.
- Wipe correctly after using the toilet. Females especially need to take care to wipe from front to back to avoid possibly introducing bacteria from the rectum or anus from getting into the urethra and up into the bladder.
- Perform pelvic floor exercises. Also known as Kegel exercises, these exercises involve tightening your pelvic floor muscles and holding them, then releasing them.
- Limit your intake of foods that irritate your bladder. Certain foods are known for being irritating to your bladder. A few items to consider avoiding if your bladder is sensitive to them:
- spicy foods
- acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits
- anything containing caffeine
- Stop smoking. Smoking can cause harmful chemicals to gather in your bladder. This can affect the bladder lining and may lead to cancer. In fact, tobacco use is the No. 1 risk factor for bladder cancer.
- Eat more fiber. Eating a diet rich in fiber, along with drinking plenty of water, can help you ward off constipation. When you’re constipated, the stool builds up in your colon and puts pressure on your bladder, which is right next door.
- Limit your alcohol consumption. If you have existing bladder problems, drinking alcoholic drinks can make them worse.
- Modify your wardrobe. Loose-fitting undergarments or undergarments made of cotton that can breathe are your best bet. They can help you avoid trapping moisture in the area, which can allow bacteria to grow.
- Exercise regularly. Getting physical activity on a regular basis will not only help you maintain a healthy weight, but it can contribute to healthy bladder function, too.
- Watch out for certain medications. Some drugs can affect your central nervous system, making you less aware of the urge to urinate—or more likely for your bladder to leak urine. Talk to your doctor about your options if this becomes an issue.
“Bladder problems can cause inconvenient and embarrassing situations, and worse,” Dr. Crigler says. “If you take steps to keep your bladder healthy, it can help avoid them, and benefit your overall health, as well.”
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.