Too Embarrassed To Tell Your Doc?
by Sari Harrar
Anna Albrecht was a fit 31-year-old mother of two when the Big Leak happened one day. "I was jumping rope at the gym when — splash! — I completely wet my pants," she recalls. "I was so embarrassed." So did Albrecht go to the doctor? "Not for seven years," she admits. "I just didn't jump rope."
The leaks have stopped, thanks to a class aimed at strengthening her pelvic floor — the hammock of muscles that supports the internal organs, including the bladder, bowels, and uterus. "It made a huge difference — I can jump rope or go out dancing and stay dry," says Albrecht, 47, of La Grange, IL.
Leaks, urinary pain, wild sprints to the ladies' room, and a purse packed with pads are a reality for millions of American women. Yet two out of three of us never tell our doctors, and those who do speak up have waited, on average, 6.5 years. Instead, we cross our legs with every sneeze, scope out the fastest route to the toilet at parties, and hope for the aisle seat at movies and on airplanes.
"Talking about it can be embarrassing," says urogynecologist Sharon Knight, M.D., at the University of California, San Francisco. "Or women think it's an inevitable consequence of childbearing and aging and that nothing can be done."
If that's you, here's the headline: Women's biggest urinary problems are all treatable. Often, easy solutions like exercises, weight loss, and a couple of new habits (goodbye, diet-cola refills!) work wonders. Even when the problem is stubborn, there are new, effective treatments. (Out: cranberry juice to treat bladder infections. In: behavioral therapy for "tiny bladder syndrome.")
If you've got annoying symptoms, read the scenarios below, then learn about the newest ways to fix the problem you're not talking about.
You leak when you laugh, cough, sneeze, exercise, carry heavy stuff, or have sex.
DIAGNOSIS Stress incontinence
WHAT'S HAPPENING Pregnancy, childbirth, extra pounds, declining estrogen levels in perimenopause and menopause, and normal age-related muscle loss can all weaken pelvic-floor muscles, resulting in more pressure on your bladder and on your urethra — the tube that carries urine out of your bladder.
STAT It's the most common form of incontinence in women, affecting one in four from ages 25 through 44 and one in three from 45 through 64.
BEST FIXES Start with low-tech solutions, which significantly improve or even "cure" stress incontinence for most women:
WEIGHT LOSS Dropping pounds eases the pressure on your bladder and pelvic floor, says Kristene Whitmore, M.D., chair of urology and female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. "In one study, women who lost 17 pounds reduced leaking episodes nearly 50%." Even those who lost a mere three pounds were 28% drier.