Female Urological Changes to Expect With Age
As women age, it’s not uncommon for them to experience noticeable changes in their urological health. However, that doesn’t make these changes any less surprising!
For example, a woman who has never experienced urinary incontinence before will likely be confused — and embarrassed — by the involuntary leakage of urine when she laughs or coughs. Aging alone can be confusing, frustrating and difficult for men and women, and unexpected changes to your body like this only seems to make it worse.
We understand how overwhelming these changes can be, so we wanted to take the time to explain the female urological changes women can expect as they age. Our hope is that this blog helps women prepare for the changes they may experience in the future.
What causes female urological changes?
Typically starting around age 40, women begin to notice key changes in their bodies. These changes usually mark the start of perimenopause, the menopause transition. This stage usually lasts around seven years, and may cause hot flashes, trouble sleeping, moodiness, pain during sex or feelings of depression.
During perimenopause two hormones, progesterone and estrogen, vary greatly. Because of this, women may also notice weight gain. 12 months after the end of a woman’s last period marks the beginning of menopause.
The start of menopause is also known to cause high blood pressure and puts women at a greater risk of developing diabetes. Simply put, the changes a woman experiences during perimenopause and after can have great effect on her urological health.
It’s not uncommon for aging women to begin experiencing issues with their bladder and kidneys. Women may start noticing symptoms associated with urinary tract infections (UTI), urinary incontinence (UI), overactive bladder, kidney stones and in some cases kidney disease. Let’s take a closer look at each of these below.
Urinary Tract Infections
While women of any age can have a urinary tract infection, it’s one of the more common female urological changes to occur in women after menopause. As we mentioned before, menopause decreases the amount of estrogen and progesterone that your body naturally produces. Additionally, lower amounts of estrogen allows more bad bacteria to grow, potentially causing UTIs.
A UTI can occur at any part of the urinary system, however it usually occurs in the lower urinary tract. A UTI is considered recurrent if a woman is diagnosed two or more times in six months, or three or more times in a year. While UTIs can be frustrating, there are ways to prevent them.
Drinking plenty of water is the best way to prevent against UTIs. Staying hydrated helps flush bacteria out of the urinary tract and lowers your risk for developing a UTI. For recurrent UTIs, women can:
- Try antibiotics. Typically, a week’s worth of antibiotics are prescribed by your doctor to fight the bacteria. However, your doctor may recommend long-term, low dose antibiotics to fight recurrent UTIs.
- Submit urine tests. For women suffering from recurrent UTIs, your doctor may request frequent at-home urine tests to diagnose the cause of the infection.
- Drink cranberry juice. While cranberry juice has not been proven to reduce the risk of infection, its acidity can decrease the potential for bacteria growth.
- Consider vaginal estrogen therapy. For women going through menopause with recurrent UTIs, vaginal estrogen therapy may be recommended. Talk with your doctor about this treatment type to see if it’s right for you.
Urinary incontinence (UI) is the involuntary leakage of urine. There are five types of UI that women may experience:
- Stress incontinence is caused by pressure on the bladder when laughing, coughing, sneezing or exercising.
- Overflow incontinence is known as the constant dribbling of urine when the bladder doesn’t empty.
- Urge incontinence is caused by sudden urges to urinate followed by the involuntary leakage of urine.
- Functional incontinence is involuntary urine leakage due to physical or mental impairment.
- Mixed incontinence is a combination of different types of urinary incontinence.
Stress incontinence is the most common, especially in younger women. Aging women are more commonly diagnosed with overactive bladder (OAB), which we discuss more below.
Unfortunately, many women decide to live with the symptoms of urinary incontinence and decide to change their clothing and lifestyle to hide UI. In fact, a 2018 poll shows that 60 percent of women between the ages of 50 and 80 who had claimed to experience symptoms of UI had not seen a doctor. Instead, they decided to wear pads or specialized underwear and dark colored clothing to disguise their symptoms.
UI is very treatable, especially when women are open and honest with their doctor about their symptoms. Visit our website to learn more about the treatment options for urinary incontinence.
Overactive bladder is similar to urinary incontinence in that there is an involuntary leakage of urine. The difference is that the leakage caused by overactive bladder is due to a weakened bladder. Women diagnosed with OAB experience sudden urges to go to the bathroom and are unable to make it to the bathroom before leaking urine.
OAB affects two out of five women and is one of the most common female urological changes during menopause due to decreased levels of estrogen. There are multiple treatment options available for OAB, such as medication, Kegel exercises, weight loss, adjustments to fluid consumption, nerve stimulation and even Botox.
There are multiple factors that can contribute to a woman being diagnosed with OAB. These risk factors and severity of OAB symptoms will help your doctor determine the best method of treatment.
A kidney stone is a hard, mineral-based mass that typically form in the kidneys or urinary tract and causes an immense amount of pain. About 90 percent of stones can be treated to pass through the system on their own, but some are too large and will require surgery to remove.
As we mentioned before, the changes that happen to a woman’s body as she ages may negatively impact her bladder and kidneys. Normally, aging women find it easier to gain weight. Overweight or obese women are at a higher risk for developing kidney stones — and once you’ve had one, there’s a 50 percent chance you’ll have another. Low estrogen levels are also a risk factor for kidney stones, which is why women going through menopause have a greater risk of stone development.
Aging women should be mindful of their diet and habits to not only prevent weight gain, but also kidney stones. To do so, women should:
- Stay hydrated. Water is the ideal choice, but any liquid can be helpful (even alcohol in moderation can help prevent kidney stones!)
- Reduce sodium in their diet. Sodium increases calcium levels in urine, which can lead to the formation of a kidney stone.
- Check estrogen levels. If you are going through menopause, ask your doctor for a blood test to check your estrogen levels.
- Exercise. Eat nutritious food and exercise regularly to not only improve your diet, but also to combat potential weight gain and the development of other risk factors.
Aging women are more likely to develop high blood pressure and diabetes, which puts them at greater risk for kidney disease. While kidney disease often goes undetected, there are some distinct warning signs women should be aware of:
- Feeling faint, dizzy or weak
- Swollen or puffy face
- Food tasting like metal
- Itchy rashes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Changes in urine
Some of the tell-tale signs of kidney disease is the sudden presence of blood in the urine, difficulty urinating (urinary retention), as well as an increase in urine output and the appearance of foggy or bubbly urine.
While menopause is known to decrease bone density, kidney disease actually puts women at a greater risk for osteoporosis, a disease that reduces the density and quality of bone. Exercise and a healthy diet are the best methods for kidney disease prevention, and help to keep a woman’s bones strong.
Aging women should maintain a healthy diet and exercise plan, as well as schedule yearly visits with their doctor. Remaining proactive is key to preventing female urological changes and complications, and we are here to help. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, or feel that you may be at risk, contact us.
Also, take the time to check out our additional resources. Our Nutrition & Lifestyle Guide has our top tricks and tips for achieving and maintaining optimal urological health.