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Stress Urinary Incontinence

According to the Agency for Healthcare Policy Research, 13 million Americans suffer from urinary incontinence; 85% (11 million) are women.   Based on the results of a Gallup survey conducted in April 2002, 70% of women with incontinence have symptoms indicating that they have some form of stress urinary incontinence (SUI).

SUI is the most prevalent type of incontinence.  Simply, it is the sudden, involuntary loss of urine that often happens with laughing, sneezing, coughing or exercise.  SUI is caused by anything which causes pelvic muscle strain or weakness such as vaginal childbirth.  It can be exacerbated by the estrogen loss that accompanies menopause.

SUI affects women of all ages including young mothers, pre-menopausal women and seniors.  The average age of onset is 48.  For most women, SUI can be an embarrassing, unpredictable condition.  As a result, many women:

  • Avoid an active lifestyle
  • Shy away from social situations
  • Constantly search for the nearest bathroom
  • Carry around a change of clothing and underwear
  • Wear black pants and skirts
  • Tie shirts around their waist or wear long shirts
  • Become too embarrassed to talk to their doctor

The good news is that SUI is treatable.  While most women resort to adult diapers, better options include:

  • Self management: Kegel or pelvic muscle exercises (may be more  useful for prevention or in mild conditions), biofeedback, pessaries
  • Medication: drugs for overactive bladder, hormone therapy
  • Surgery, including newer minimally invasive procedures

Surgery may be needed when other more conservative therapies have failed.

There are many surgical options to treat incontinence; the type of operation depends on cause.  The goal is to restore the urethra and bladder to normal positions in pelvis.

Created: 9/10/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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