It likely began mildly, years ago, with a few small accidents here and there. Over time, dealing with the symptoms of incontinence – the pads, the change of clothes, the keen awareness of the closest bathroom – simply became part of the routine.
And if you’re like many of the millions of women dealing with bladder or bowel leakage, you’re doing it in silence.
Maybe you worked up the courage to mention this worsening problem to your doctor. But most physicians chalk it up to age and recommend pelvic floor exercises or certain medications. Basically, this leaves you embarrassed and ashamed and with no hope for any real resolution. Until now.
In my 22 years of practice, I’ve worked with countless wonderful, vibrant, healthy women in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s who find themselves curtailing their lives to accommodate a problem they find too embarrassing and frustrating to even discuss.
Hikes, shopping trips, workouts, holidays, social events, walks with the grandchildren – all of these activities become more and more challenging. So these amazing, vivacious, otherwise mentally and physically vigorous women find themselves withdrawing more and more, all to accommodate leakage issues that are only getting worse.
For the vast majority, the culprit behind incontinence is simply the loss of the normal nerve signaling to those important pelvic floor and sphincter muscles.
And while most of the time there is no specific additional “cause,” lots of conditions can contribute to the problem – infections, diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, inflammation, medications, radiation, and past surgery.
Of course, pregnancy and childbirth often injure the nerves and muscles, and, in doing so, set the stage for incontinence years later. Diagnosis begins with a few simple tests to assess the nerves and muscles and to look for any contributing conditions that might be treated.
Like many things in the human body, the bladder and rectum are dependent on a complex neuromuscular system that includes the sphincter muscles and all the parts that make up the pelvic floor.
While it’s not true that incontinence is just a side effect of aging, you must accept it is true that growing older lessens muscle function, mainly because proper nerve signaling diminishes with time. With enough deterioration of the signal through these important transmission lines, accidents are going to happen.
Sadly, very few doctors are comfortable talking about incontinence. Even fewer are aware of how truly successful and simple modern treatment has become. It puts people who need answers in an impossible spot.
But to assume that nothing can be done, to be paralyzed by embarrassment, and to continue accommodating bladder and bowel leakage – that’s no way to live. And it’s definitely not warranted, not with today’s technology.
Lifestyle and diet changes, exercises, medications, insertable devices, filler injections, surgical slings and lifts. There’s a long list of potential therapies a doctor might recommend, with varying levels of convenience, success, and side effects.
But the hands-down best treatment for bladder and bowel leakage is sacral nerve modulation. It’s been FDA approved for the past two decades, and recent refinements have made it even better.
The 20-minute procedure involves placement of a tiny device under the skin in the “back pocket” area of the body, with a fine lead wire passing through the natural canals of the sacrum to deliver gentle current to the pelvic floor muscles.
Bioengineers were inspired by the success of cardiac pacemakers, which are similarly designed to restore nerve signaling. Sacral nerve modulation does the same. It’s become a simple, fast, non-invasive, and highly effective procedure performed with a local anesthetic.
FDA trials report a success rate of more than 90%. I see that success played out in my own patients.
Here’s the interesting part. Although widely utilized by highly specialized continence centers with outstanding results, sacral neuromodulation remains the best-kept secret in medicine.
Between the general stigma surrounding incontinence, the amount of money to be made treating its symptoms, the age misconception, and the limited training of many doctors, that starts to make sense. But it needs to change.
If you’re struggling with incontinence, the first step is understanding you aren’t alone. The second step is learning more about sacral nerve modulation and how specialized centers are making a difference with new technology.
It’s a wonderful feeling to offer real, meaningful solutions to people who deserve to live full, happy lives, unencumbered by a medical condition that can be resolved without invasive surgery or chronic medications.
Modern technology really is solving the problem no one wants to talk about. This is changing the lives of men and women everywhere.
Do you suffer from incontinence? How does that affect your life? What methods have you tried to battle this condition? Has your doctor given you the option of sacral nerve modulation? Please share your thoughts and experiences with our community.
Editor’s note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor to get specific medical advice for your situation.
Tags Healthy Aging