Women who suffer from stress urinary incontinence (SUI) worry
about coughing, sneezing, even laughing in public for fear of having an
accident. For some the fear of embarrassment is so great that they become
virtual recluses, staying at home and avoiding any social contact.
Even with this anxiety, however, 62% of women sufferers wait a
year or longer before discussing the condition with their doctor, reports a new
Multi-sponsor Surveys' Gallup Study of women with SUI.
"It's usually when something really embarrassing happens to
them in public that they finally seek help," says Jill Peters-Gee, MD,
director of the Continence Care Program for Women's Health Connecticut. Most
women cope with SUI by wearing pads, says Peters-Gee, because they don't know
that SUI can now be easily treated with a simple surgical procedure.
First though, a definition. SUI is the involuntary loss of
urine due to any physical activity that puts strain on the bladder, says
Peters-Gee. The most common type of incontinence, SUI affects nearly 8 million
women in the U.S, and occurs when the pelvic muscles supporting the bladder and
urethra have been damaged or weakened. Some of the physical changes that can
lead to SUI include childbirth, pelvic or gynecologic surgery, menopause or
estrogen deficiency, obesity, and chronic constipation
Up to 80% of cases of female incontinence are treatable, says
Peters-Gee, with treatment options including:
Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles.
Electrical stimulation to help return injured muscles to fitness, and
biofeedback to record progress in strengthening treatments and exercises.
Medical devices that block or capture urine.
Hormone cream to restore the tissue of the vagina and urethra to their
normal thickness (the thinner the tissue gets, as estrogen levels decline, the
more chance there is for leakage).
Surgery to repair or lift the urethra or bladder neck to provide support
during straining or sudden movement.
At one time surgery to treat SUI was much more invasive,
painful, and required a lengthy recuperation. That's one reason many women with
SUI hesitate before seeking treatment, says Peters-Gee. A minimally invasive
procedure that has been offered for the past seven years, however, is proving