What is stress incontinence? Diagnosis, how it affects women, treatment options

ByHeather Grubola WPVI logo
Monday, May 23, 2022
What is stress incontinence? Diagnosis, effect on women, treatment
Up to a third of all women suffer from stress incontinence. A new product promises to provide long-term relief.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Up to a third of all women suffer from it, but few talk openly about it. Stress incontinence causes embarrassment, isolation, and limits on activities.

However, there are effective treatments, including a new product that can provide long-term relief.

Coughing, laughing, sneezing, sometimes lifting. So any kind of exercise.

Dr Avita Pahwa, a urogynecologist at Temple Health, said even simple movements can trigger bladder leakage. Anatomic differences make women more vulnerable, with strenuous events like pregnancy and childbirth adding to the odds.

"Anything that really pushes chronic weight on your bladder," she said.

That includes obesity and smoking. All can cause the pelvic floor to weaken. Unfortunately, many women suffer in silence.

"They're very commonly telling us 'Oh, I thought this was a normal part of aging, and I didn't even know there were treatment options'."

Dr. Carol Glowacki said the first stage of treatment is physical therapy to strengthen the pelvic floor. That includes what is known as Kegel exercises, which are sometimes paired with biofeedback.

"It's like getting a personal trainer for your pelvic floor," she said.

She's had patients from their 20s into their 90s who have gotten results, though it can take up to three months.

"Like any exercise therapy program, it's only useful as long as the person doing the exercises continues to do the exercises," she said.

Dr. Glowacki said a new product called Bulkamid is generating interest.

"It's a water-based gel essentially that you can inject. So it's essentially 98-percent biocompatible, so we don't have to worry about an allergic reaction."

It strengthens the muscle at the base of the bladder, and unlike previous products, this one lasts.

"80-percent are still dry at seven years," she said. "Bulkamid is probably one of the most exciting things that have come into my field in 20-plus years."

Both doctors said it's important for women to seek medical help, and not just assume nothing can be done.