Covid-19 and its effects on bladder and bowel health
It’s looking like this virus is here for another while yet! so let’s discuss its impact on pelvic health. Covid-19 is a small spiky virus that causes an inflammation cascade within the lungs, which can impact oxygen transport, cause lung damage and lead to respiratory conditions such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. When the lungs are not functioning well, there are going be direct implications for bladder and bowel continence or voiding and defecation problems. If your pelvic floor muscles are not fully relaxing, you will have issues with successfully emptying your bladder or bowel. Or if your pelvic floor muscles are not contracting strongly enough it will be hard to stop urine or poo from escaping…. Maybe that’s why there was such a craze to stock up on toilet roll!!
Let me explain….think of the respiratory pelvic diaphragm like a can, diaphragm at the top, pelvic floor muscles at the bottom and abdominal muscles the cylinder. Thinking of this when someone breaths in the diaphragm drops, to make room for this the abdominal muscles bulge out and the pelvic floor muscles drop down and lengthens, then with a normal passive breath out the diaphragm rebounds as to the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. However, on a forceful breath out when someone is working a bit harder to breath the pelvic floor muscles are actively working to help expel the air out of the lungs. When people are short of breath with the Corona virus, they could be using the pelvic floor muscles to help with breathing…not sustainable and this is where someone might start to experience symptoms or notice current pelvic floor symptoms worsen.
The ultimate test for the pelvic floor has got to be a coughing fit, a full bladder or diarrhoea! Coughing is a hallmark symptom of the corona virus, and really tests the pelvic floor muscles. Normally when you cough the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles would contract to help create an effective cough. However, if someone has weak pelvic floor muscles or connective tissue the pressure will go to the weakest link, so you may notice urinary leaking or a vagina bulge/heaviness. Repetitive coughing can cause microtrauma to the pelvic floor structures overtime resulting in a wide range of unwanted pelvic floor symptoms. This has been shown in other populations with chronic coughing (hay fever, COPD or cystitis fibrosis) having an increase in urinary and faecal leaking and pelvic organ prolapse symptoms. This would be no different from coughing due to Covid 19, or dare I mention it…. the cold/flu season coming up.
Thankfully Covid-19 cases have been low in comparison to other parts of the world, but many have still experienced hospital stays due to difficult respiratory symptoms. The long-term impacts are still unknown, but acute respiratory distress syndrome reduces how deeply you can breathe, preventing the diaphragm and pelvic floor from lengthening and moving through their full range. This can lead to confusion in the muscles, contracting when they should be relaxing when passing urine or a poo. Shortness of breath is also a common symptom which can cause urinary urgency due to being in a stress response state which can play into urgency symptoms or experience urinary or feacel leaking with normal day to day activities due to pelvic floor muscle exhaustion, like the rest of your body!
More reason to mask up, stay your distance and do your pelvic floor exercises to prevent Corona incontinence and be prepared…..winter is coming!