Fortunately, when it comes to health issues, there are many risk factors you can avoid or improve on by making simple lifestyle changes. Quitting smoking, adopting an exercise routine, and eating healthy can greatly reduce your risks for developing certain health problems, and these are all choices that you can make. However, for ladies, there is one risk factor that goes beyond your control- and that is simply being a woman. As you grow older, being female increases your chances for developing certain urological conditions such as UTI’s, urinary incontinence and pelvic floor disorders. So why do women inherently have a higher risk than men?
Looking at the anatomy, there are some basic differences in the male and female urinary system. First, the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body, is markedly shorter in women. This makes it easier for bacteria to move up the urethra and cause infection in the bladder. Also, the urethra and the rectum are more closely located in women. Having the two openings in close proximity to each other allows bacteria from one site to easily travel to the other, increasing chances of infection.
In addition, pregnancy and childbirth put an enormous amount of strain on a woman’s body that can stretch and weaken pelvic tissue. Sometimes, the body is able to bounce back and resume its pre-baby structure, but in other cases the injured tissue is not able to re-gain its previous strength. When the pelvic muscles and connective tissue remain in this weakened state, they are not able to hold the pelvic organs up in the positions they are supposed to be. This shifting or dropping of pelvic organs is referred to as pelvic prolapse, and brings with it other uncomfortable symptoms like urinary incontinence (urine leakage).
Another risk factor specific to women: Menopause. As if all of the age-related hormonal changes endured during menopause weren’t enough, we can add “weakening pelvic muscles” to the list. While in menopause, the body slows its production of estrogen, and this in turn increases the risk for pelvic prolapse. Estrogen helps the body in making collagen, the protein that allows the pelvic tissues to stretch and return back to their normal positions. So when estrogen levels decrease, so do collagen levels, resulting in less flexible tissues that are prone to tearing, and can no longer properly support the pelvic organs.
1 in 5 women will experience some sort of urinary issue in their lifetime, yet not all are willing to talk about it. Many women feel hesitant to bring up these issues in conversation, even with their doctor, for fear of embarrassment or even shame. But dealing with these conditions sooner rather than later can have a significant impact on your quality of life. It’s important to remember that you are not alone, and there are numerous options for treating and managing urological symptoms. Though just being a woman has predisposed you to experiencing some of these issues, being open with your doctor and getting the right treatment will allow you to live a happy, healthy and active life. Don’t let a urological condition hold you back from doing the things you enjoy!