Dr Zoe Williams answers your questions on Bladder Weakness

Dr Zoe with TENA Products Q&A-header-1.png

As part of our End Bladder Shame campaign, Doctor Zoe Williams has shared some advice for those too self-conscious to speak to their doctor. From easy-to-follow steps that can help train your to key questions to ask a health professional, she’s outlined some simple tips and tricks to guide you on getting the help you need.

I’m affected by bladder sensitivity and leaks, but haven’t told anyone yet. What resources could I look to, to help me with this problem?

Firstly, it is important to see your GP, who can assess and advise you, consider tests and in some cases may refer you to a specialist doctor. Also consider joining a support group, like The Bladder and Bowel Community. The NHS website is another great resource to better understand how to recognise and manage specific medical conditions, especially if you already have a diagnosis. Sometimes, lifestyle changes like adjusting your fluid intake, diet and drink choices, and bathroom habits can also help manage bladder sensitivity. Check out TENA.co.uk for more info too.

I’m embarrassed by my incontinence problem. How should I address this with my doctor?

is a really common issue; I promise you that your doctor will not be phased in the slightest!

It is important to be open and honest about your symptoms and concerns. Your doctor needs accurate information to make a correct diagnosis and recommend the best treatments for you. Mention the type and frequency of leaks, any triggers or patterns you've noticed, and how long you've been experiencing these issues. Also explain how the incontinence is affecting your daily life as this helps your doctor to understand the full scope of the impact. It may help to jot all this down before the appointment to organise your thoughts.

What information is a doctor likely to need from me if I do want to talk to them about my bladder leaks?

It’s great to be prepared for your doctor’s appointment in advance! Be ready to describe your symptoms as precisely as possible. For example: how often you leak (e.g., daily, weekly, occasional, how much, any triggers or patterns you've noticed, such as when coughing, sneezing, or during physical activity), whether you experience urgency (a sudden strong need to urinate) before leaks occur and any discomfort or pain associated with the leaks.

Other important things to know are how long you've been experiencing bladder leaks, your current medications and supplements. your medical and family history. Your doctor will also ask more specific questions to better understand your condition but rest assured - your conversations will be private and treated with confidentiality.

How would an incontinence assessment work?

An assessment involves a series of questions and steps to evaluate and diagnose the causes of incontinence.

During your initial GP consultation, the doctor will take a detailed medical history, ask about your symptoms, and may perform a physical examination. Other tests may include a urine sample test (urinalysis). You may also be asked to keep a voiding diary. This is where you record your fluid intake, urinary and bowel movements, and any incidents of incontinence over a specified period. It is also essential to keep any follow-up appointments and communicate any changes or concerns with your healthcare team.

If you are referred to a specialist team for further tests then these will depend on your own symptoms, and may include X-rays, scans, a camera test to look inside the bladder or tests called urodynamics, but rest assured that any test or procedure will be fully explained to you in advance.

What questions should I ask a medical professional to better understand my condition and get a diagnosis?

Here’s a list of questions to start with!

  1. What could be causing my symptoms?
  2. Is my condition acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term)?
  3. What tests or assessments will be needed to diagnose my condition?
  4. What are the potential complications or risks associated with my condition?
  5. Are there any lifestyle adjustments self-care options that may help manage my condition?
  6. Are there any medications or dietary changes I should consider?
  7. How will this condition affect my daily life, including work, social activities?
  8. Are there any support groups or resources available for people with my condition?
  9. What should I do if my symptoms worsen or change over time?
  10. Is there anything else I should know or consider about my condition?
  11. Do I need to see a specialist or can my usual GP help?

This depends on different factors, including how severe the symptoms are, what the likely underlying causes are and whether or not your symptoms improve with the initial management that your GP is able to provide. Your GP will normally refer you to specialist services if it is needed. Remember, it is okay to seek a second opinion from another healthcare professional if you ever feel that you haven’t been properly understood or that your symptoms haven’t been taken seriously enough.

Are there any changes I could make to help with my bladder sensitivity before I get a medical appointment?

Yes - there are many lifestyle adjustments and self-care habits you can do!

Start by avoiding foods and drinks that irritate your bladder. These can differ between people but some culprits may include caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, spicy foods, and artificial sweeteners.

Take your time to wee! Rushing can make things worse. Try to choose clothing that is easy to remove quickly when you need to use the bathroom, which can help prevent leaks. Finally, consider using absorbent pads or protective undergarments to manage leaks discreetly until you receive medical advice.

Is there anything I can do to manage my bladder weakness?

When it comes to ‘stress incontinence’ - the key is looking after your .

Just like with any other muscle in our body, training the muscles of our pelvic floor to keep them strong and well-functioning is important for all of us, no matter our gender or if we have issues or not.

How to train your pelvic muscles:

Imagine your pelvic floor as a sling that holds the womb, bladder and rectum in place.

To feel your pelvic floor muscles, imagine you are passing urine and try to stop the flow mid-stream.

You should feel some movement in the muscles.

Now imagine you are trying to stop wind escaping, from your back passage, these are pelvic floor muscles too.

To exercise those muscles, sit comfortably and do a long squeeze, followed by ten short squeezes and repeat this cycle ten times. 

You should have a sense of ‘lift’ each time you squeeze. Don’t hold your breath, or tighten your stomach, bottom or thigh muscles at the same time.

Aim to do these three times a day.

Strictly following this regime can lead to significant improvement in symptoms after three months.

However, if this doesn’t improve things, then it is important to speak to your GP or practice nurse as there are a multitude of therapies and treatments for people with all types of incontinence issues.