Is stress incontinence causing you to feel a little stressed out these days? If yes, then we’ve got something that we think could help. Read on to learn about 5 options for treating stress incontinence so you can tell your bladder who’s boss.
Stress Incontinence Recap
Before we jump into how to treat stress incontinence, we’ll recap what it is. Stress incontinence is one of several types of incontinence, but it’s unique in that a little pressure can cause a lot of drip. Someone with this condition who puts physical stress on their bladder from laughing, coughing, lifting, etc., may experience the unintentional loss of urine. You can thank your pelvic floor muscles and/or urinary sphincter for this.
Now that you know what it is, let’s talk about what you can do (or not do) to treat it.
#1 Pelvic Floor Strengtheners
One of the first things you can do if you have stress incontinence is to become knowledgeable about behavioral treatments, or what we call pelvic floor strengtheners. Pelvic floor strengtheners are simple, sometimes free, and can be used with other treatments. Some of those behavioral treatments for women include:
Pelvic Floor Exercises
Working out your pelvic floor is a great way to strengthen your pelvic muscles and potentially decrease leaks. But you can also exercise your pelvic floor just by going about your day. Think of your pelvic floor like a hammock that keeps things lifted off the ground. Your pelvic floor is responsible for holding in place your bladder, uterus, and bowel. So when it’s weak, those organs droop. You can perform Kegel exercises to snap your pelvic floor back in place, keeping your organs lifted, and leaks in check.
Perfect “The Knack”
The Knack is a great hack for using your pelvic floor muscles to squeeze your urethra shut before a drip occurs. Our pelvic floor muscles automatically contract to keep the urethra closed when pressure hits the bladder. But, if your urethra doesn’t shut fast enough, that’s when you’ll experience a leak.
One study actually found that within one week of learning The Knack, participants leaked 98.2% less with a medium cough and 73.3% less with a deep cough. These individuals were taught to contract their pelvic floor muscles one second before they cough. This goes to show if you learn how to control your pelvic floor muscles at the right time, you could say “hi” to dry.
#2 Vaginal Inserts
Who knew that a small ring could have the potential to limit bladder leaks? Vaginal inserts and pessaries are inserted into the vagina to press against the urethra. These medical-grade silicone or latex devices give the urethra that extra level of support it needs to help with chronic bladder leaks.
Ask your healthcare provider if they think a pessary or vaginal ring would be right for you. They’re typically fitted to your size, so don’t be surprised if you’re asked to do jumping jacks to see if it’ll fall out. And if you need a little back up support, Lily Bird has you covered with bladder leak pads and undies delivered discreetly to your door.
#3 Electrical Stimulation
Zap your pelvic floor into shape using pelvic floor electrical stimulation therapy. This form of treatment involves inserting a tampon-shaped electrode into the vagina. Once inside, the electrode will send an electric current that makes the pelvic floor muscles contract. Electric currents are sent at different strengths and time intervals throughout the day, which should stimulate weakened pelvic floor muscles. You can complete this form of therapy at your doctor’s office or at home with the proper equipment.
Currently, there are no medications specifically approved for treating stress incontinence in the United States, but you still have options. In Europe, they use the anti-depressant, Cymbalta, to help control the contraction of the urinary sphincter. With stress incontinence, a little pressure can swing the urinary sphincter right open and cause an unexpected spritz. Fortunately, Cymbalta helps keep the sphincter closed to avoid spontaneous drips. However, this only works if you’re taking the medication, so if you stop, the symptoms will return.
Although surgery is a last resort, there are options available to improve the sphincter or support the bladder neck. A few of those options are:
Considered the most common surgery for treating stress incontinence in women, the sling procedure involves using mesh or a person’s tissue to create a sling that supports the urethra. The goal of this procedure is to keep your urethra closed until you have to use the bathroom. There are three ways to do a mid-urethral sling, which are:
- Retropubic method: Here, a small cut is made inside of your vagina as well as two small incisions above the pubic bone with enough space to pull a needle through. The needle will pass the sling under the urethra and behind the pubic bone.
- Single-incision mini: For this procedure, there’s only one incision and that’s inside of the vagina. Your surgeon will pull the sling through this one incision and place it under the urethra.
- Transobturator: This procedure is a lot like the retropubic method, but without the incisions above the public bone. Instead, a surgeon makes a small opening on each side of the labia to pass the needle through.
Your surgeon will decide which method is best for you based on your unique case.
Bladder Neck Suspension
The bladder neck suspension surgery is another way of adding support to the bladder neck and urethra. For this procedure, your surgeon will make an incision in your lower abdomen and secure stitches in the tissue near the bladder neck. This procedure requires a few weeks of recovery and possibly a urinary catheter.
Treating Your Stress Incontinence
Well, there you have it! If you’re one of the approximately 15 million women in the United States dealing with stress incontinence, you now have a few solutions. Don’t let the stresses put on your bladder put stress on your mind. Start documenting everything you think might be contributing to your incontinence in your bladder diary today. You can take your bladder diary with you to your doctor’s appointment and come up with a solution to de-stress your life.
By Jessica Thomas, MPH