Menopause and Overactive Bladder: Yes, They're Connected
Do you plan your day to make sure bathroom stops will be available at short notice and scope out buildings so you always know where the nearest bathroom is? Do you tell yourself to wait an hour for that glass of iced tea so you won't have to dash for the ladies'? If so, it's likely you have a condition called overactive bladder, or OAB. And if you're between 40 and 55, you may be one of the many women for whom OAB is a menopause- and age-related problem.
One comfort: You're in good company. Studies show overactive bladder affects at least -- and probably more than -- 17 percent of women in the U.S. Why more? Because this problem is vastly underreported, due to the embarrassment factor. (It's not the easiest thing to talk to your doctor about.) But help is available. In the meantime, here's what you should know about the connection between OAB and menopause -- along with available treatments.
What's the connection between menopause and OAB?
During perimenopause, the period leading up to menopause, and menopause itself, the level of estrogen -- which helps to keep the tissues of your bladder and urethra healthy -- begins to drop significantly. If you've begun to notice dryness and sensitivity during sex, it's likely you're at risk for bladder problems as well. The reason: Just as the tissues of the vaginal wall begin to thin and dry out, so does the tissue that lines the bladder. When that happens, your bladder becomes more sensitive to irritants and more susceptible to "hair-trigger" releases.
What's more, lack of estrogen can cause the pelvic muscles, which are responsible for maintaining bladder control, to weaken, eventually resulting in incontinence.
What kinds of bladder control problems can happen with menopause?
Overactive bladder problems take several forms:
Urgency: When you have to go, you have to go now.
Frequency: You have to go all the time, defined as a problem if you need to go more than eight times in a 24-hour period. And yes, this problem is a doozy for sleep disruption.
Urge incontinence: The need to go now comes on suddenly, and if life conspires to keep you from a bathroom, you're likely to have an accident.