In most modern sex education, students are taught about male and female sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen, in the context of how they impact “our changing bodies”. Testosterone levels increase in boys and cause them to grow chest hair and force their voices to change just as increased estrogen production in women means developing breasts and the start of their menstrual cycles. As we age, it is no secret that our bodies go through challenges as we produce less of these hormones in our post-child bearing years – thinning hair, weight gain, low sex drive, and mood swings are all physical signs of aging that are proof that we’re producing less estrogen and testosterone. Another common sign of aging is light bladder leaks, but what does that have to do with hormone production? The two may be more closely linked than you know.
What is Estrogen?
So what is estrogen and what exactly is its role in our bodies? According to the University of Rochester Medical Center:
“Estrogens are a group of hormones that play an important role in the normal sexual and reproductive development in women. They are also sex hormones. The woman’s ovaries make most estrogen hormones, although the adrenal glands and fat cells also make small amounts of the hormones.
In addition to regulating the menstrual cycle, estrogen affects the reproductive tract, the urinary tract, the heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles, and the brain. Secondary sexual characteristics, such as pubic and armpit hair, also start to grow when estrogen levels rise. Many organ systems, including the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems, and the brain are affected by estrogen.”
While estrogen is the main hormone in females, both males and females produce it. Males just produce estrogen at a much lower level than their female counterparts just as females produce less testosterone than males.
Estrogen & Bladder Leaks
As mentioned in the explanation of estrogen, the hormone plays a pretty big part in our bodies’ ability to function. It helps regulate very important parts of our bodies, regardless of sex or gender. One of these functions is our ability to control the flow of urine. Much like the vagina, the urethra (the opening that allows urine to pass through) is supported by estrogen production.
“The concentration of estrogen receptors in the urethral mucosa is similar to that of the vaginal mucosa.”
In layman’s terms: estrogen helps line the tissue that supports the urethra, just as it helps line and support the vaginal walls. Women start to produce less estrogen around the ages of 45-55 with the onset of menopause. When women produce less estrogen, they are more likely to develop stress incontinence as a result. Stress Incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine during an activity in which the urinary tract or abdomen is under pressure. Leaks can be triggered by running, coughing, lifting, laughing, etc. While bladder leaks are common, especially among postmenopausal women, they should not be considered a normal part of aging and should be treated.
If you’re experiencing light bladder leaks as a result of Stress Urinary Incontinence, talk to your doctor to find the cause of the leaks and solutions that work right for you. If the lack of estrogen is causing bladder leaks, then supplementing the hormone may help reduce the symptoms.
“Estrogens have been shown to increase urethral pressure in up to 30 percent of women and to significantly improve or cure stress urinary incontinence in many cases.”
There are several ways the estrogen can be administered – a topical cream applied to the vagina, a vaginal ring that is inserted, or a tablet that is inserted via the vaginal canal. In addition, your doctor may suggest the following to help reduce symptoms and keep you more comfortable throughout the day.
Kegels – These exercises are meant to target and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the urinary tract, and help regulate the flow of urine. Check out our blog on Kegels for all you need to know!
Pads and Liners – If you’re experiencing leaks throughout the day, pads and pantiliners are widely available in the feminine care aisles at your local drug store. Worn like menstrual pads, incontinence pads are used to prevent liquid from reaching the skin, clothes, and other surfaces. These kinds of hygiene products must be changed regularly to prevent any irritation or infection, especially in older people.
Another solution for women suffering from Stress Urinary Incontinence is a new bladder support device called Revive®! Revive is made to comfortably support the urinary tract internally to reduce bladder leaks for up to 12 hours a day. Simply insert the device like a tampon with the provided applicator for all-day comfort. Once done, simply remove, clean, and store until the next use (Revive® can be used up to 30 times!) Find yours at a retailer near you.