Menopause and Symptoms from the Urinary Tract
As you age, the life experiences you gather often give you a good sense of your worth and what's meaningful in life. Maybe there have been experiences you have put off due to life, time or money, and you finally want to check those boxes off your bucket list. Menopause doesn't have to stop you from doing what you want to - but there are a few things that might be helpful to know during this new season of life.
Most people have heard of the common symptoms of menopause like hot flashes, but a less discussed topic is how menopause can affect the urinary tract. Let's address menopause and urinary incontinence, along with the treatment options available that may help alleviate some of the changes.
Menopause and incontinence
The amount of estrogen varies throughout life, but low levels are typically seen in young girls and women experiencing menopause. Estrogen affects many parts of the body, such as the brain, skeleton, uterus and vagina. So while it's reasonable to assume it's a factor in why many women experience incontinence at this time of life, science hasn't proven why incontinence commonly occurs during menopause. Still, a reasonable guess is that it's due to decreased estrogen levels, which can affect the urinary tract and pelvic floor muscles.
Reduced estrogen levels can have the following effects:
- Loss of tissue condition. Vaginal and urinary tract tissue may be drier, thinner and less elastic (pelvic floor muscles degenerate when not stimulated by estrogen). In general, a combination of age, childbirth, body weight and hormonal factors can cause tissue loss and increase the risk of urinary incontinence or feelings of urgency.
- Change in pH environment. Lactobacilli bacteria, commonly present in the urinary tract, creates a low pH environment that protects against infection. As we age, the level of this bacteria decreases and consequently, so does the mucus production. As mucosa gets drier, the pH level grows and raises the risk of a urinary tract infection as it is easier for bacteria to take hold and thrive. UTIs also elevate your risk for urinary incontinence.
Learn more about UTIs.
Estrogen treatment, such as creams and vaginal suppositories, is one way to manage symptoms. These treatments ensure increased blood flow to the tissue. In addition, locally administrated estrogen provides moisture, which makes the mucous membranes of the vagina and urinary tract thicker, more acidic, and less delicate. As a result, it enhances the defence against infections, reducing the risk of irritation and UTIs. In contrast, estrogen given as pills can worsen urinary incontinence.
Pelvic floor training
Since the pelvic floor muscles are essential for improving bladder and bowel control and preventing leaks, it's ideal to maintain strength in these muscles. Adding kegel exercises, even just a few minutes daily, can reduce the risk of leaks or eliminate them altogether.