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:
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 very successful.