Many women are great communicators, but they also can be pretty hard on themselves. So, when their bodies try to tell them something is wrong by functioning in unexpected ways, some women might be too busy or too embarrassed to talk about it, even with their doctors.
If you feel this way, keep one thought in mind: Doctors have pretty much seen it all. There is little a body can do, no matter how unusual, that would catch us by surprise.
We’re familiar for an important reason: Some of those “embarrassing” symptoms could indicate more serious health conditions. The sooner they are diagnosed, the more treatable these conditions will likely be.
Among the common symptoms of more serious conditions that many women experience are:
- Urinary incontinence
- Frequent or painful urination
- Blood in the urine
- The presence of stool in the urine or gas passing through the urethra
- Pain during sexual intercourse
What These Unexpected Body Functions Might Mean
These symptoms are trying to tell the body that something is wrong. Following are descriptions of each and what they might be trying to communicate.
- Urinary (stress) incontinence. Female incontinence, or accidental urination, is a sign the bladder is weakening or the nerves that control urination are malfunctioning. More than 33 million Americans experience it, according to the National Association for Continence, and it is twice as common among women as men.
- Frequent and/or painful urination. These are among the most common symptoms of urinary tract infections (UTI), which affect as many as 50% of women. UTIs are highly treatable with antibiotics – the sooner they are diagnosed, the more effective the treatment will likely be. And diagnosis is important. The need to urinate frequently or urgently also could signal more serious conditions, including ovarian cancer.
- Stool in the urine or gas passing through the urethra. This is a sign of a bladder fistula, a rare condition that occurs when an opening has formed between the bladder and another organ. Often, the bladder opens to the bowel or the vagina, causing gas to come through the urethra and for urine to look and/or smell like stool. Factors that can cause bladder fistula include a blocked bladder, gynecological cancers, bowel cancer, radiation therapy, and inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s.
- Blood in the urine. Also known as hematuria, blood in the urine is often the result of infections, such as to the urinary tract, or kidney problems, including stones. It also may signal endometriosis, when the lining of the uterus grows in other parts of the body. Lastly, although it is less common, urine in the blood may indicate kidney or bladder cancer. A urine test and imaging can help your urologist identify the culprit.
- Pain during sex. Post-menopausal women typically experience a decline in their estrogen levels, which can contribute to vaginal dryness and atrophy. This is normal, and there are treatments your urologist could recommend. However, painful sex also is also among the signs of pelvic floor weakness or even ovarian cancer. Urologists can help diagnose those conditions as well.
Give Your Body a Voice
Patients who feel they just can’t talk openly about these, and other symptoms, might find it easier if they write them down first. This could help break the ice.
Another icebreaker is The Urology Group’s online bladder diary, which patients can fill out before their appointments.
Don’t let bashfulness get in the way of good health. We are here to get to the bottom of all symptoms and make our patients feel better so they can live their happiest, healthiest lives.
To learn more about women’s urinary and sexual health, and the services we provide, visit our Women’s Health page.