Research has found that 1 in 3 women over 30 suffer from bladder weakness/leaks every day, making it more common amongst UK women than hay fever.
Dr Ruth Maher, a specialist in innovotherapy, calls out pad companies and incontinence management products for deliberately misleading consumers into believing that they can only manage the symptoms of incontinence rather than tackle the cause.
It’s a dignity issue and a silent epidemic; this is the last taboo. Women do not like to talk about all the things that happen in their pelvis – society has a role to play in enforcing this embarrassment and taboo. Women are remaining silent and being encouraged to use pads to manage their symptoms.
7% rely on drugs/medication and 6% use manual rehabilitation with a physiotherapist to manage symptoms. Over half of women with bladder weakness (52%) use sanitary pads or incontinence pads/slips to manage their symptoms, spending an average of £420 a year.*
Nearly a quarter (24%) admit that pads make them feel uncomfortable, 33% feel unsexy or unattractive and 28% feel self-conscious.
We spoke to Dr Maher to find out more!
Maher : Hi. My name is Dr Ruth Maher. I am a professor at Creighton University in the USA.
Patient Talk: And what are the signs and symptoms of bladder weakness?
Maher: Well, actually there’s no such thing as bladder weakness. Bladder weakness has been put out there by pad companies to sell their products and it’s led to women to believing that that is the only solution. What we’re really talking about is a condition called stress incontinence; urinary incontinence which is manifested by weak pelvic floor muscles which many women experience after pregnancy and menopause.
Patient Talk: What are the causes?
Maher: The causes are tears in the muscle after pregnancy, hormonal deficiencies, congenital problems can cause it and age. The other thing that can cause it is a lot of fat tissue around the abdomen area; we’re all eating a lot more these days and not exercising so we all carry a bit more around the middle section and the sheer cause of it is when you cough or sneeze, you increase the pressure in your abdomen area and that pushes down on the pelvic floor muscles that are weak so women are losing urine.
Patient Talk: What are the main treatments and how do they work?
Maher: The main treatments are what’s called pelvic floor exercises or kegels. Unfortunately women don’t know how to contract the muscles because the muscles don’t move adjoined like the bicep that would move your arm. You can use electrical stimulation; the conventional methods are uncomfortable because the use a probe, like a little tampon and that can cause all sorts of things like infections and bleeding. But there’s a new device called inova (???) therapy. That’s shown great promise in the research and it’s a device that’s worn like a pair of shorts in the comfort of the woman’s home. She can treat herself thirty minutes a day for five days and we’re seeing curates of up to ninety per cent in some ladies.
Patient Talk: What are the effects on lifestyle for a person with bladder weakness?
Maher: It’s a huge quality of life issue. Women modify their life, their entire life based around visits to the bathroom. They will put pads in their handbags, they will plan their shopping trips based on where the loos are, they will not engage in exercise or social events, they’ll change the clothes they wear and the sheer cost of it, isn’t the pads which are about £400 a year. It’s the cost across their lifespan of putting on weight, dealing with the conditions that are associated with weight loss (??? I think she means weight gain) such as diabetes, heart disease, it really is a silent epidemic. It affects their sex life, they’re terrified of leaking urine during sex so they avoid it and it ruins relationships.
Patient Talk: What one piece of advice would you give to somebody who has just discovered they have incontinence?
Maher: I would advise them to talk. Talk to other women, talk to their GP, go to their local physio. Physios are great with dealing with muscle issues and this is a muscle issue. If they remain silent, things are only going to get worse so education is key and conversation.
Patient Talk: Where can people go for more information?
Maher: They can go to restorethefloor.com; a website that has lots of good information about this condition.