We live in stressful times normally, but now, it is especially stressful with the COVID-19 pandemic. How does stress affect the bladder? Symptoms such as urgency (the sudden need to urinate), frequency (urinating often during the day) and discomfort just above the pubic bone or intravaginally can occur.
Stress enhances these symptoms for a variety of reasons, through our nervous system, muscles and lifestyle. The neurotransmitters or chemicals that work in our brains, are also found in the wall of the gastrointestinal tract and bladder. Stress can make these organs act up. Pelvic floor muscles are at the base of the pelvis, connecting the pubic bone to the tail bone and around the rectum and to the pelvic side wall. These are collectively termed the levator ani muscles.
One can store tension in these muscles much like a person who sits at a computer screen or hunched over a book can develop tightening of the neck and upper back muscles. When these muscles are contracted, they narrow the openings of the urethra, vagina and rectum where they cross these muscles. The closure contributes to the urinary symptoms.
Lifestyle can also impact our bladders. Stress eating, especially of highly processed foods, causes bladder irritation. Weight gain can cause post-void dribbling as the urine can get caught in the soft tissues of the genital tract. We know from the bariatric data, that weight loss helps to improve urinary symptoms. Poor quality sleep also affects many systems including the bladder.
What should I be concerned about? If you have recurrent bladder infections or see blood in the urine you should seek care in the office. However, if you don’t have blood in the urine or recurrent bladder, infections and the symptoms corresponded with increased stress you can try some conservative things. Eating less processed foods, watching the overall calorie intake addresses the diet.
Breathing exercises can help calm our nerves and meditation can help. There are several free meditation apps, such as Insight Timer and Oak. Taking time for reflection, paying attention to our sleep habits will also improve our overall health.
Make an appointment with Dr. Togami.