There are many factors that can have a negative effect on our bladder and bowel function. Some of the common ones are listed below. There can be other factors too, so please contact usor discuss your continence issues with your health care professional.  

  1. Poor fluid intake 
  2. Being overweight
  3. Poor diet 
  4. Poor bladder habits 
  5. Increased pressure on pelvic floor muscles 
  6. Chronic coughing or sneezing 
  7. Constipation
  8. Eating foods or having drinks that irritate the bladder 

Poor fluid intake

Many people falsely believe that if they don’t have much to drink that they won’t make much urine and will leak less. Cutting down your fluids is likely to make problems worse. There are several risks associated with poor fluid intake, and these include:

  • Urine that is more concentrated and more likely to irritate the bladder. This will worsen problems such as urgency (overactive bladder).
  • Increased risk of a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). A recent study found that drinking between 1500 – 2,000ml per day, preferably mostly water, was the best strategy to reduce the risk of recurrent urinary tract infections. A good fluid intake will tend to mean that there will be a lower concentration of bacteria in the bladder, and this is thought to reduce the risk of developing a UTI. 
  • Increased risk of constipation. Poor fluid intake reduces the amount of fluid going into the bowel. This results in hard, dry stools and constipation. 
  • Increased risk of falling. A low fluid intake causes a lower volume of blood to circulate in the body and this causes the blood pressure to drop (orthostatic hypotension). This in turn reduces the amount of oxygen able to reach the brain, causing the person to feel light-headed and dizzy, especially if they have been sitting down and then stand up.  

Being overweight

Being overweight or obese will result in increased pressure on the bladder and pelvic floor muscles. This increased pressure will worsen conditions such as urinary stress incontinence. This is because the build-up of pressure in the abdomen as we cough is added to by the pressure of body weight, and this increased pressure is transmitted to the pelvic floor muscles. When the pelvic floor muscles are weak they may be unable to contract effectively to close off the urethra when we cough, sneeze or lift something heavy and leakage of urine (stress urinary incontinence) occurs. 

When people lose body weight or have had bariatric surgery their stress urinary incontinence tends to improve. 

Pelvic floor muscle training will assist in strengthening the pelvic floor muscles. Losing weight (if overweight) will also assist in reducing stress urinary incontinence, in addition to other health benefits.  

Poor diet

There are many negative health effects of having a poor diet. These include an increased risk of being overweight or obese. There is also an increased risk of constipation.

A poor diet can also mean that the body is not beingsupplied with vitamins and minerals that keep the body healthy. This could potentially increase the risk of infections and illness. 

Poor bladder habits 

The average person will need to empty their bladder between 4 – 6 times per day and maybe once at night. As we get older the bladder may become smaller and older people may go to the toilet a little more frequently – 6- 8 times per day and 1 or 2 times at night. 

When it comes to keeping the bladder working well it is just as important to avoid “holding on” for long periods and having an overly full bladder as it is to avoid going to the toilet too frequently.

Going to the toilet frequently (more than 8 times during the day) can be due to a range of reasons. These include bladder infections and diabetes, and other serious health conditions (such as bladder, bowel, prostate or ovarian cancer). It is important to see your health care professional if you have this symptom lasting for more than one month. 

Some people get into the habit of going to the toilet frequently “just in case” they may need to go later, or go because they feel that they couldpass urine. Frequent visits to the toilet can lead to the bladder becoming smaller making it necessary to go more frequently. This can make leaving the house challenging especially if the location of toilets is unknown. 

It is not uncommon for some people to be proud of being able to hold onto large volumes of urine in their bladder (600ml or more). Over time this can cause the muscle fibres in the bladder to become stretched and damaged. In some cases, the bladder becomes so stretched it is unable to contract and empty properly. This results in urinary retention, and a catheter is required to drain the bladder. 

Increased pressure on the pelvic floor muscles 

Apart from being overweight, being pregnant will also place an increased amount of pressure on the pelvic floor muscles. 

Lifestyle factors such as heavy lifting when gardening, at the gym or around the house, carrying babies and toddlers or doing heavy lifting at work can result in increased pressure being placed on the pelvic floor muscles. This can lead to weakening of the pelvic floor muscles and increases the risk of urinary stress incontinence.  

Chronic coughing or sneezing 

Many people find that after a bad cold or ‘flu when they have been coughing and sneezing a lot that what was previously a slight urinary stress incontinence becomes much worse. Conditions that result in frequent coughing or sneezing (such as asthma or hay fever) cause repeated increased pressure on the pelvic floor and can lead to or exacerbate urinary stress incontinence. 

Constipation

Straining to empty the bowels can also place increased pressure on the pelvic muscles and cause them to become weaker. This in turn increases the risk of urinary stress incontinence. See our Tips to prevent constipation. 

Avoid foods and drinks that irritate the bladder or upset the bowels 

Some people may find that certain foods (e.g. spicy foods) and drinks may irritate their bladder or upset their bowels. Some foods may cause problems if excessive amounts are eaten. These foods and drinks affect different people differently, so be aware of any foods and drinks that may cause problems for you. 

Common bladder and bowel irritants are:

  • Spicy foods
  • Rich, creamy foods or sauces 
  • Caffeine
  • Artificial sweeteners 
  • Alcohol
  • Fruit juices, particularly citrus 
  • Liquorice 

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Kylie – parent of a child that wets the bed 

Kylie rang our service as she was concerned about her five-year-old daughter, Mia, who was wetting the bed. Kylie had tried limiting Mia’s drinks in the late afternoon and evening and was also getting up at night to wake Mia and take her to the toilet.

Our advisor explained that it may take children until they around 5 ½ years old before they gain bladder control during sleep. Kylie was advised to encourage Mia to drink well throughout the day and was cautioned against cutting out drinks in the afternoon and early evening. Kylie was discouraged from waking Mia at night to take her to the toilet. Kylie was provided with information on obtaining a referral from Mia’s doctor to a bedwetting clinic if Mia continues to wet the bed past 5 ½ years of age.

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Anastasiya’s story

“As a mum of two young children, I have experienced the joys of two pregnancies and postpartum recoveries. I was shocked after the birth of my first child to discover that my pelvic floor muscles had become weak. I sought advice from Bladder and Bowel Health Australia and learnt the importance of exercising these muscles. This knowledge helped, and because I was better informed second time around, I have now fully restored the dignity of my body and truly enjoyed the changes - and my motherhood. Thank you, Bladder and Bowel Health Australia, for informing young families about bladder and bowel health issues.” 

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Doreen – carer of her husband who has dementia 

Doreen was becoming exhausted caring for her husband Tom, who has dementia. Tom was not always making it to the toilet on time and needed his trousers to be changed several times a day. Every day Doreen was also washing bedlinen and the four towels that Tom was laying on at night as he was soaking through his pull-up pants. 

Tom was receiving a high-level Home Care Package, and Doreen was able to arrange with their provider for some of Tom’s package to be allocated to funding continence assessment and management.  

Our advisor went to Tom’s home and conducted a thorough continence assessment. A continence management plan was developed with input from Doreen, and appropriate incontinence aids and linen protection were organised. Doreen is relieved that Tom’s incontinence has reduced, and her washing load has lessened. Doreen is now confident that she can continue caring for Tom in their home. 

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Gary – experiencing leakage after his recent prostate surgery 

Gary met with one of our Bladder and Bowel Health advisors, as he was concerned about his urine leakage that was persisting after his radical prostatectomy five weeks earlier.   

Gary discussed his concerns with the advisor and was reassured that he was making good progress towards regaining bladder control. This reinforced the information he had received from his urologist. Gary was encouraged to switch to a smaller incontinence pad rather than continuing to wear the pull- up incontinence pants he had worn since his surgery. The advisor arranged some smaller pads for him to trial and provided details on where he could buy them close to his home. 

Gary was encouraged to drink plenty of fluid (particularly water) and to increase his fruit and vegetable intake to avoid constipation. Gary was uncertain if his pelvic floor muscles were working properly and he was referred to a pelvic floor physiotherapist. Gary left the clinic in a brighter frame of mind, confident that he was improving and had clear strategies to further support his recovery.