Many Options, Including the Sling Procedure, Now Available for Women
"When I was in residency, one of my professors told me that 50 percent of women will develop incontinence at some point in their lifetime," recalls Dr. Sari Levine, an El Camino Hospital urologist who recently spoke on camera in an educational patient video on urinary incontinence.
But despite being such a common problem among women, incontinence is a subject that's rarely discussed, even between friends. Why? It's embarrassing, for one. And many women see bladder control problems as something that just comes along with childbirth and the aging process.
Yet incontinence is not something women have to live with for the rest of their lives. Today there are many options for women, both medical and surgical.
Sari Levine, MD
One of the most common types of incontinence, affecting more than 15 million women nationwide, is known as stress incontinence (the other is "urge" incontinence). Despite the name, it is not connected to emotional stress as one might imagine. Instead, women with this disorder leak urine when they "stress" their muscles by coughing, laughing, sneezing or bearing down.
"Stress incontinence can be a shameful, life-interrupting disorder," explains Levine, who has found that patients with this condition often become afraid to go out, exercise or engage in their normal activities. Although some women feel it's something that just happens as you age, Levine counters that it is "not a natural part of aging," and that it is, in fact, a medical condition that can be treated.
One recent patient of Levine's, Linda, started experiencing urinary leakage at age 51. "Sneezing, coughing, laughing--all of these would cause me to leak urine," she says. "I thought it was age-related."
As a classroom teacher who enjoyed having fun with her students, Linda was dismayed to discover that her "accidents" became more and more frequent as the years went by. "I felt old and out of control of my body," she recalls. Medication worked initially, along with wearing pads every day, but her problem grew worse.
A Chance at a New Life
By the time Linda turned 59, she had given up hope of ever solving her problem. But then an encounter on Facebook changed everything.
Through online exchanges, Linda reconnected with her old high school sweetheart. Both were single at the time, and after a whirlwind courtship, they decided to get married. But Linda didn't want to start her new life dealing with her old problems, and she certainly didn't want to worry about leaking urine every time her new fiancé made her laugh.
The Sling Procedure
So Linda went to see Levine, who, after carefully reviewing her medical history, informed her of a procedure that could help. In what's known as the "sling" procedure--the most common surgical option for stress incontinence--Levine was able to place a sling around Linda's urethra to lift it back into a normal position and to create pressure on the urethra, which helps with urine retention.
"It was the beginning of a new life," says Linda. Four weeks after having the surgery, which was done as an outpatient procedure, Linda walked down the aisle, ecstatic that she no longer had to worry about leaking through her dress.
She says her life today is "just wonderful," and she is incredibly grateful to Dr. Levine for curing her incontinence problem. Always the teacher, Linda recently volunteered to help patients learn more about incontinence by sharing her story publicly through El Camino's web site.
See the video with Linda's full story and more about incontinence from Dr. Levine.