Ever since perimenopause set in (around age 45 for me), I have struggled with bladder infections. Or at least I assumed that’s what they were. They would just show up out of the blue, but were also aggravated by sex, and would bring on “flares” that would keep me doubled over in pain for whole nights until I could get to an urgent care center. It was strange though - the urine cultures would only come back positive about 50% of the time. Still, I had all the classic symptoms, so normally I would get a course of antibiotics and be done with it. This didn’t really seem unusual to me, because I knew that our bladders change as we age, and that women especially become much more susceptible to bladder issues and UTIs in midlife.
That’s all true, but lately I’ve been finding research indicating that recurrent UTIs are not as common as previously thought, and that the frequent “flares” (especially with negative urine cultures) that look and act like UTIs are actually a sign of interstitial cystitis or IC. This is a progressive disease that is often misdiagnosed, with mild, intermittent symptoms beginning in a woman’s 30s. It is easy to see how the most common symptoms – frequency/urgency, bladder or pelvic pain, and incontinence – would be mistaken for a bladder infection, and therefore a woman might not even seek help if the symptoms are mild. (I know I did this – if it wasn’t too bad, I just drank a ton of pure cranberry juice and took some herbal supplements until it passed.) Over time the symptoms worsen and become more frequent, and are commonly “triggered” by the menstrual cycle and/or by sex.
What causes IC? It is hypothesized that genetics play a role, so if the women in your life had “bladder issues,” it might be worth talking to a urologist. Another factor could be a diseased or “leaky” mucous barrier in the bladder which allows potassium from the urine to leak into the bladder walls and break down nerve cells and muscles.
What do you do? There are multiple prescription medications that can help, of course – find a good urologist if your symptoms are severe. From a natural perspective, the same cures you might use for a regular bladder infection stand, and strategies to heal the mucous membranes can be very helpful.
Ditch sugar. Bacteria thrives in a high sugar environment.
Drink lots of pure water (not carbonated or flavored), this keeps the mucous membranes healthy and viscous.
Limit caffeine and alcohol, as these can be irritating to the bladder.
Try herbs. Corn silk is a star that works specifically on the urinary tract, but licorice, slippery elm, and marshmallow root all have soothing and healing properties that can help.
Tribulus. Research has shown this anti-microbial herb to be effective in treating issues of the urinary tract. I add tribulus powder to my morning smoothie - easy.
How have you managed bladder issues in menopause??