What is the Bladder? How Does it Change as we Age?
The bladder is a balloon-like organ that is located in the lower abdomen. It is part of the urinary system, along with the kidneys, urethra and ureters. Its primary function is to store urine that is later released from the body through urination. Urine consists of the remaining waste and extra fluid left over after the body separates what it needs from the food we eat and the liquids we drink.
As we get older, our bladders change. For starters, the elastic wall surrounding the bladder becomes tough and less stretchy. A less stretchy bladder is unable to hold as much urine as before, likely causing you to have to go to the bathroom more frequently. Additionally, the bladder wall and pelvic floor muscles may weaken, making it harder for the bladder to empty completely. This often leads to the involuntary leakage of urine or urinary incontinence.
Common Aging-Related Bladder Problems
Bladder problems are very common. The probability of incurring bladder conditions increases as we age. Common aging-related bladder problems include:
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)- UTIs are the second most common infection in the body. Women are most at risk for these infections, with each woman having a 50 percent chance of having a UTI in their lifetime. Older women are even more likely to incur UTIs because of their weakened bladder muscles. As mentioned previously, these weakened muscles make it more difficult to empty the bladder, causing residual urine to sit in the bladder. Urine sitting in the bladder for too long increases the risk of creating a bacterial infection or UTI. There are three main types of UTIs.
- Bladder infection: This is the most common type of UTI, which results from bacteria entering the bladder. Symptoms of bladder infections include strong and sudden urges to urinate.
- Kidney infection: Bladder infections can spread upward and affect the kidneys, potentially causing severe problems. It’s important to be aware that long-lasting and recurring kidney infections may lead to permanent damage to the kidneys.
- Urethra infection: Although less common, a UTI may also occur in the urethra.
- Lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS): These are a group of symptoms that include difficulty urinating, loss of bladder control, urinary incontinence and frequent urination. These symptoms may be the result of issues related to the urethra, bladder or pelvic floor muscles.
- Bladder cancer: A type of cancer that occurs in the lining of the bladder.
Symptoms of Bladder Problems
Each person’s bladder behaves differently. However, there are certain symptoms that may indicate a problem. These symptoms include:
- Strong of frequent urge to urinate
- Cloudy, bloody or strong-smelling urine
- Burning during urination
- Body aches
- Vomiting or nausea
Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
In some cases, elderly people with a UTI may only experience symptoms of mental changes and confusion. Conversely, older adults with a UTI may feel fatigued, shaky and weak.
Symptoms of a UTI in the bladder include:
- Cloudy, bloody or bad-smelling urine
- Pain or burning during urination
- Strong and frequent need to urinate often right after already urinating
- A mild fever of 101 degrees or below
If a UTI spreads to the kidneys, symptoms may include:
- A fever above 101 degrees
- Feeling cold and shaking
- Pain in the back, side or groin
- Looking flushed in skin complexion
- Severe abdominal pain
When to Seek Treatment for Bladder Problems and What to Expect
If you experience any of the symptoms described above that indicate a bladder problem or a UTI, it is important to seek care promptly. In particular, if you feel you may be experiencing symptoms of a UTI, it is best to receive care as soon as possible, to prevent the infection from spreading to your kidneys.
There are a few common tests your doctor may perform to diagnose your bladder condition. These tests may include:
- A physical exam: If you’re a woman, this is a pelvic exam. For men, this involves a prostate exam.
- Urine sample: You may be required to leave a urine sample that can be tested for different types of bacteria to diagnose your problem.
- Bladder ultrasound: An ultrasound of your bladder may be needed to indicate whether or not you’re able to empty it completely.
If you think you may be suffering from a bladder problem that may or may not be related to aging, please consider Dr. Howard Tay, a board-certified urologist. Dr. Tay has over two decades of experience treating several urinary conditions throughout the Valley. Contact us at (602) 337-8500.