Winning the race against stress incontinence
by Ken Edmunds

Janet got up as quickly as she could from the table without arousing suspicion. Like so many times before, she tried to appear casual as she darted through the restaurant to the bathroom she had discreetly scouted out when she sat down just minutes ago. There was one thought screaming through her head like a siren, “I’m not going to make it!”

Normally she would have arrived early enough to get a table closer to the restroom. Normally she would have added an extra pad or two inside her protective underwear to for just-in-case and more confidence. Normally she would have made her normal detour through the ladies room before leaving work.

Today, however, she was running late. A last minute call at work from her boss with yet another project, had thrown her into a hurry to make the weekly lunch date she kept with her friends from her neighborhood.

Janet, like millions of other women in the United States on the young side of middle age, is living with stress incontinence, and the fear that comes with it. The negative stigma associated with all levels of incontinence creates a pervasive sense of shame over what in reality is a common condition. In fact, out of the eight women sitting at Janet’s table, statistics show that at least one more of them suffers in silence with Janet. Research shows that neither Janet nor her silent neighbor will seek medical advice for an average of six years from the point that symptoms appear. Instead, each will covertly purchase products (often more related to feminine hygiene products or menstrual pads), stick close to the restrooms whenever they can’t avoid leaving the house and pray that these measures will prevent the unthinkable—leakage to outer clothing.

Milestones in the lives of women like Janet, such as pregnancy, childbirth and menopause, to name a few, are responsible for women being twice as likely to experience incontinence as compared to men. For women, stress incontinence is by far the most prevalent type of incontinence. Activities or conditions that put pressure on the bladder (i.e. coughing, sneezing, lifting something heavy, etc.) are the catalyst for this type of leakage from the bladder.

What Janet isn’t realizing is that stress incontinence is not necessarily a lifelong sentence. Many times working with your physician can bring about treatments/practices to alleviate the symptoms and can often even result in a cure that marks a return to a less stressful life.

Some of the more common strategies to overcome stress incontinence in women are:

  • Behavioral Approaches: Examples would be Kegel exercises, dietary changes, weight loss or a more scheduled structure of toileting
  • Medicines: Depending on your specific diagnosis, your physician can often prescribe medications that can help relax the muscles in the bladder
  • Devices/Nerve Stimulation: This can be as simple as a pessary device or more complex like electrical stimulation of the relevant nerves
  • Surgery/Catheterization: When more organic approaches like those above are not successful, physicians will often discuss a more aggressive intervention which can sometimes include either surgery or catheterization

During the period of time that precedes a diagnosis and treatment plan, and conceivably for the initial period of treatment, many women opt for some additional protection in the form of disposable incontinence products.

It has been said, “For every action, there is a corresponding over-reaction.” This tends to be true when it comes to the solution to prevent leakage to outer clothing. Many women that are only experiencing minor leakage will leap past the pad option and proceed directly to protective underwear. Unfortunately, the over-reaction doesn’t always stop there. Many women will also opt to insert pads into the protective underwear in an attempt to thwart leakage that often would have been addressed without the additional padding.

We all have to admit that we would do just about anything to avoid an accident that might become apparent to those around us. It’s simply human nature to dodge embarrassment whenever possible. Electing to wear protective underwear instead of a pad to increase our confidence is a normal response in an effort to maintain our dignity and independence. However, the practice of putting additional pads into otherwise seemingly inferior body-worn products, such as protective underwear, is generally not advisable. Pads usually have a moisture-proof backing that prevents fluid from easily accessing the product it is contained within and this holds urine against the skin for a longer period of time.

As with any level of incontinence, it is generally considered best practice to simply choose a better, higher-quality single product (whether pad or protective underwear) than it is to resort to two or more inferior products that offer less protection and confidence and ultimately cost more—due to use in combination and/or a more frequent need to change due to inadequate absorption.

Janet burst through the restroom door and won the race with her bladder by seconds. While changing her product, she heard someone else come in and calmly walk over to the stall next to hers. As Janet washed her hands, her friend Sharon joined her at the sinks. Sharon quietly placed a package of premium bladder control pads on the countertop. Janet looked up at Sharon and in that instant they each found solace in a shared foe. “Try these,” said Sharon. “I have never had a leakage with these and I don’t have to run to the bathroom anymore.”

If someone you know is living with some form of incontinence, you can safely bet that they need your acceptance, encouragement and maybe after this article—your gentle guidance.