This guest post is by Marilyn Suttle of Poise.com.
When you go through menopause, estrogen levels drop. For some women, this can result in weakening of the pelvic floor muscles that support bladder control, causing LBL (light bladder leakage.) You’ve probably heard about LBL. It’s that little leak that comes with a big sneeze. It can be triggered by a range of things from exercise to caffeinated drinks. It’s also part of that desperate “gotta go” feeling you might get on the way to the restroom. Here’s some good news. It’s a myth that LBL is something all women will experience because of menopause. Still, a lot of women (one in three) will experience light bladder leakage. And there are things you can do to prevent, reduce or even eliminate those unwelcome leaks.
I manage a community (blog and message board) for women who experience LBL. It’s a place to share concerns, learn, and ask questions. Though LBL is experienced by one in three women (of all ages), those in menopause have asked me, “Why is this happening to me now?” “Is there anything besides surgery I can do to stop it?” “I’ve started leaking during sex. What can I do?”
You may feel embarrassed and keep LBL a secret from family, friends, and even from your doctors. It’s important to know that support is available once you start the conversation. Many women have told me that it’s a relief when just one friend opens up, and talks frankly about her experiences with LBL. Once the conversation is started, you don’t feel so alone. One out of every three women experiences LBL – that’s about 40 million women! It’s empowering to reach out and share experiences and advice with your girlfriends. It’s also important to keep in mind that there are many non-medical, non-surgical solutions available; and the sooner you address it, the better your results.
To get a medical professional’s take on the issues related to LBL, I often interview top-notch physicians. One of my favorites is Jason Gilleran, MD, a urologist at Beaumont Women’s Urology Center in Royal Oak, Michigan. When it comes to being proactive, he said, “Change what is changeable. Even if you’re already experiencing LBL, there are things you can do to help reverse it.”
If you smoke, stop smoking. Smoking is a contributing factor for bladder leakage during menopause.
If you are overweight, lose weight. Women tend to gain weight during menopause. A noted research study showed that women with an average weight of about 200 pounds who lost 10% of their body weight, had a 70% reduction in leakage.
If you have a chronic cough, get it treated. A chronic cough causes ongoing pressure on the pelvic floor and, over time, can weaken it.
If you don’t do core strengthening or kegel exercise, start exercising. Telling a woman to do kegels without instruction is a lot like sending someone to the gym without telling her how to use the equipment. When Dr. Gilleran asks his patients to do a kegel in his office, many squeeze their rear end cheeks or lift their pelvis off the table, neither of which is right. “I refer a lot of young women who are perimenopausal and noticing early signs, to a pelvic floor physical therapist,” he shared.
Pelvic floor physical therapists can make a world of difference in helping you get results. They’re not as expensive as some of the other treatments, and there are no harmful side effects. If you bring up concerns about bladder leakage to your regular physician or gynecologist; and they aren’t in tune with your needs, ask them to refer you to someone with special training, like a pelvic floor physical therapist or urogynecologist.
Be proactive, and change those personal habits that contribute to light bladder leakage during menopause; and you just may sidestep, reverse, or eliminate the problem.
Understand your body
While some factors contributing to LBL are within your control, others are not. “Childbirth or a family history that predisposes you to issues, like prolapse, can contribute to a weakened pelvic floor,” Dr. Gilleran said. “If you’re predisposed then you’re more likely to experience some level of leakage after menopause.” Remember, you are not alone. One in three women experiences LBL, and there are ways both surgical and non-surgical to manage it.
“Once a woman has gone through menopause completely, LBL is a factor of what has happened to the pelvic floor tissue,” said Dr. Gilleran. “Some women come in with signs that they have changes in their vaginal tissues, while other women’s tissues are still in pre-menopausal shape. After menopause, women, in their mid-50’s or 60’s, who have intact muscles in their pelvic floor, tend to have better results with a pelvic floor physical therapy.” When women experience bladder leakage and wait too long to see a pelvic floor physical therapist, it’s more likely that muscle loss may have taken place. The earlier you intervene the better results you’ll have long term.
You are not alone
It’s been my experience that when you let go of embarrassment and start the conversation about issues like LBL, you find support and camaraderie with other women in your life. You may experience LBL, but it doesn’t define you. You can find ways to manage it and move on to living life to the fullest. It’s your right to take charge of your health. Choose to be your most vibrant self, and enjoy your mid-life adventure.
Marilyn Suttle is an LBL expert and the Community Manager at www.Poise.com, a site that empowers women who experience light bladder leakage to stay active, vibrant, and connected. Visit her on twitter @1in3LikeMe.