Managing bladder problems

Bladder problems can be embarrassing and difficult to talk about. You may also worry about going out and socialising. But there are many things that can be done to manage symptoms.

It’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re having problems. They can refer you to a specialist in bladder control problems. This may be a urologist, a urology nurse specialist or a continence nurse.

We also have advice on coping with bowel and bladder changes.

Sometimes nerve damage means the bladder muscle can’t squeeze strongly enough. This results in the bladder not emptying completely. The most common symptoms of this are:

  • difficulty passing urine
  • straining to release urine
  • a delay in starting to pass urine
  • a weak stream of urine
  • repeated urine infections.

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to get them checked. They can lead to problems that are more serious if they are not treated.

There are other common conditions that can cause problems with the bladder emptying. This can include an enlarged prostate gland in men, or some medicines. Your symptoms may not be related to your cancer treatment. Your doctor or continence specialist will do tests to find out the cause. This will help them to give you the best treatment or advice.

Urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence can vary. For some people it means leaking a few drops of urine when sneezing or coughing. For others it may mean a total loss of control over passing urine.

A continence specialist can assess the type of incontinence you have. They can recommend the appropriate treatment. This will depend on the cause of the incontinence. Your continence specialist will give you advice.

You may be given exercises to strengthen the muscles that are important for bladder control.

These are called pelvic floor muscle exercises. They can also help with bowel control.

If you are training an overactive bladder, don’t go to the toilet just in case. The bladder won’t fill completely and it won’t get used to holding more urine.

There are specialist products for incontinence. They can help while you are waiting for a diagnosis or for a treatment to work. The Bladder and Bowel Foundation can also offer advice and support.

Looking after your bladder

Drinking too little will make your symptoms worse as concentrated urine irritates the bladder. Drinking more trains your bladder to hold more urine, reduces the irritation and your risk of getting urine infections.

Try to drink at least two litres (four pints) of fluids a day. This is about eight glasses. If it’s hot or if you’re exercising, you need to drink even more. It's best to drink small amounts regularly throughout the day.

Drink the right fluids

Try to drink water, diluted fruit juice and herbal teas. You should cut down on or avoid:

  • fizzy drinks
  • drinks with caffeine (tea, coffee, cola and cocoa)
  • alcohol (especially spirits)
  • acidic drinks (such as fresh orange or grapefruit juice)
  • drinks with artificial sweeteners (‘diet’ or ‘light’ drinks).

Managing stress may also help to improve your symptoms.

Back to Long-term and late effects

Changes in how your bowel works

Treatment for rectal cancer may lead to changes in how your bowel works. These can usually be managed successfully over time.