Feature Archive

New Help for Incontinence

New devices are alleviating this embarrassing problem.

By Charles Downey
WebMD Feature

Any time 57-year-old Brenda Cayton of Grimesland, NC, went on a road trip, she had to study her route carefully to make sure she could find a restroom every half hour or so.

"If I so much as sneezed, I would absolutely drown myself," Cayton says.

Cayton suffered from "stress incontinence" -- a condition where urine leaks when a woman coughs, sneezes, laughs, runs, or lifts something heavy. It?s surprisingly common, but difficult for patients to discuss. According to the American Urological Association in Washington, D.C., an estimated 10 million women in the United States aged 25 and above suffer from some form of incontinence.

Most often, stress incontinence develops when the pelvic floor muscles weaken as a consequence of childbirth or normal aging, says Andrew Duxbury, M.D., Assistant Professor of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

Urge incontinence, another form, affects mainly older women and occurs when the pelvic muscles contract inappropriately. It results in an unexpected, often uncontrollable urge to urinate. Some women also suffer from mixed incontinence, a combination of the two.

In any form, incontinence is likely to isolate a woman who has it. Cayton, for instance, often skipped social gatherings because of her condition.

The good news? You don?t have to suffer in silence. According to the Center for Aging at the University of Alabama, incontinence can be cured or controlled 80% of the time. Physicians usually recommend the least aggressive treatments first: behavioral modification, such as biofeedback, or physical therapies, such as electrical stimulation or different types of Kegel exercises. Some medications also prove helpful.