Alice Lesch Kelly

A few laugh lines, some gray hairs … you expect these sorts of shifts as you leave your 20s (or 30s or 40s) behind. But sometimes, physical changes can perplex even the most health-savvy women, making them wonder if a new symptom is a harmless part of aging or a cue that something is wrong. Here are four common cases that make you wonder too: 

Scenario: Sometimes I pee when I sneeze.


Yes. Nearly one in six women experience urinary incontinence, according to a 2008 study in The American Journal of The American Medical Association. “As women age, or if they have had multiple babies, the small muscle that is responsible for keeping the bladder closed can become weak,” says Dr. Laura C. Knobel, a family physician in Walpole, Mass. “A sneeze or cough can cause it to allow a little leak of urine.” It’s even more likely if your bladder is full. 

What you can do:

Tighten the muscle with Kegel exercises. If you know how to stop a stream of urine while you’re peeing, you know how to do a Kegel. Knobel recommends doing 10 Kegels three to five times a day -- hold each one for a count of 10. Also, do a Kegel whenever you feel a sneeze or cough coming on.

Scenario: Lately I’ve been waking up with a headache nearly every day.


No. Morning headaches may be a sign that you’re grinding your teeth while you sleep. “Grinding teeth causes headaches by overworking the temporal mandibular joint, or TMJ,” says Knobel. “The muscles in the jaw and neck can become painful and sore, and this can spread to the typical headache locations as well.”

What you can do:

Talk with your doctor or dentist. Pain from grinding can be soothed with heat and anti-inflammatories. Also, wearing a mouth guard during sleep can protect your teeth and prevent waking up with pain.

Scenario: I’m 45, and lately I seem to be misplacing my keys, forgetting to turn off appliances and getting lost more often.


No. As you get older, “it is quite normal to forget things at times,” says Knobel. But while hormonal changes worsen your memory, frequent gaps in recollection and difficulty doing familiar tasks can signal dementia.

What you can do:

You can expect to forget where you put your keys now and then, but see a doctor if you are forgetting to turn off appliances, getting lost when you’re outside, becoming withdrawn, and constantly needing to be reoriented to time, place or story. Be sure to take it easy as you get older too -- researchers from Sweden’s University of Gothenberg discovered a link between stress and dementia.

Scenario: I’ve been getting recurrent bladder infections for several months.


No. Frequent bladder infections may be a sign of type 2 diabetes. When blood sugar is too high, it acts as a diuretic, causing an increase in thirst and urination. “Diabetes also alters the immune system and can make you more susceptible to a bladder infection,” says Knobel.

What you can do:

See your doctor if you have any kind of recurrent infection or if you have other diabetes symptoms, such as increased thirst or blurry vision.

Alice Lesch Kelly is a freelance medical writer who has covered women's health, nutrition and oral health for print publications and the Web, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, More, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and VIV. She is the co-author of four books on women's health.


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