WASHINGTON — It’s a medical issue many aging women experience, yet few discuss with their doctors.
But Dr. Lee Richter, a urologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, says there’s no need to be embarrassed when it comes to an urgent or leaky bladder — and it’s time to strip the condition of its stigma.
“For men with erectile dysfunction, that used to be something that people didn’t talk about and didn’t know about. Now, we are all aware that it’s a part of the aging process, that there are easy ways to treat it and that it’s important to treat because it’s a quality of life factor,” Richter says.
She says the same is true for issues related to pelvic floor disorders, which many women experience as they age.
Richter explains pelvic floor disorders are caused by a laxity in the pelvic floor, which can result from the natural aging process or from trauma associated with childbirth or high-impact/high-intensity exercise.
Symptoms range from minor annoyance to complete disruption in quality of life.
“Sometimes, we often see women complaining of urinary urgency — the feeling that they always have to run to the bathroom and that they have to go very frequently,” Richter says.
Other times, a lax pelvic floor can lead to the leakage of urine.
“That can happen with a sense of urgency, also known as urge incontinence, or in times of stress or strain — even just simple coughing, laughing, sneezing, running to catch a train.”
Richter says 40 percent of women suffer from a pelvic floor disorder in their 60s, but just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s something with which women have to live. There are a number of preventive measures and treatment options.
“Staying to a healthy weight can really improve and prevent some of the urinary problems and even some prolapse-type symptoms that women can experience,” Richter says.
So can abstaining from smoking and limiting caffeine intake.
“Caffeine is a bladder irritant and can contribute to the urinary urgency and frequency,” she says.
When it comes to treatment, there’s physical therapy and noninvasive surgeries, as well as medications and minimally invasive surgeries. Richter says the biggest thing is having a conversation with your physician to learn what’s best for you.
“Women should know about these issues so that they can be empowered to seek care for them, because there are a lot of really good options for treatment.”
And just because issues related to pelvic floor disorders are generally nonlife threatening, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek treatment to improve everyday quality of life.
“Just because things are common, doesn’t mean that they’re normal and doesn’t mean that women have to manage these things in silence,” Richter says.
“I think it’s important just to remember what kind of things can come with aging and that there are a lot of opportunities for women to continue to do the things they love to do because of treatment options that are available.”