Up until now, women have mostly been expected to deal with ‘private’ matters concerning ‘private’ parts behind ‘private’ doors – basically to deal with any issues as best they can and then face the world with the happiest smile they can muster.
When it comes to UI (urinary incontinence), more commonly referred to as bladder leakage there have been no solutions – just large and bulky pads – and women have simply had to avoid situations where they didn’t have easy access to a toilet. Bladder leakage brings with it so much more than a physical problem; it can have a hugepsychological effect on women, massively reducing quality of life. Bladder leakage affects 2 in 3 women over 40. It’s a mind-blowing statistic! However, a recent survey showed that only 30% of sufferers aged 40+ have been to see a healthcare professional about the problem. And 60% have kept the condition secret from their partners. Why?
Many women feel too embarrassed to discuss the problem with doctors or friends, as if it’s something they have done wrong, something they ought to be ashamed of. Well no more. Kate Winslet and Katy Perry have been brave enough to speak publicly about the condition, and we need to take a leaf out of their book and feel confident enough to do the same. It’s time to break the taboo surrounding bladder leakage and start to talk openly about this common problem that affects millions of women.
So, back up, what exactly is UI / bladder leakage?
UI, or bladder leakage, is when you pass urine when you don’t mean to. This can happen occasionally or frequently depending on the severity and type of condition. It usually happens when women cough, sneeze, laugh or exercise. The most likely cause of UI in women is pelvic floor muscle weakness.
The pelvic floor is a set of muscles that sit like a hammock between your tail bone (coccyx) and pubic bone. These muscles give us control over our bladder and bowel and when they weaken, they are no longer fully supporting the internal organs, which can lead to leakage. This condition can affect women as young as 16 and can be caused by many things such as carrying a child, childbirth, chronic cough, constipation or menopause. The condition can prevent women from doing sport, which has repercussions on their health; it can prevent women from going anywhere that doesn’t have easy access to a toilet, which is hugely restricting; it can prevent women from having sex with their partners, nights out with friends, walks with family… the list goes on. In short, the condition can result in a massive change in personal and social activity and therefore have a huge mental impact on the women who suffer from it.
What can we do about it?
?GPs will often recommend pelvic floor muscle exercises; these can be great for strengthening the muscles in question, however many women struggle to do them correctly (50%) and in some cases this can actually make the matter worse. But finally, healthcare professionals and scientists have broken ground in the largest unmet need in women’s health after realising we needed a solution, not a coping strategy. A new product called Pelviva hit the market last year and it’s already winning awards as the first product of its kind. It’s a single-use, disposable pelvic floor muscle trainer that basically does the work for you. You can think of it as a clever little computer inside a tampon-style device that sends short pulses to your pelvic floor, mimicking the way the body works naturally, causing the muscles to contract and, over the 12-week course, strengthen the pelvic floor muscle.
Their website gives tonnes of information and you can watch videos of women talking about their experiences. Just listening to them talk about the changes they had to make in their lives to adjust to living with bladder leaks is heart wrenching. But likewise, hearing them explain what a difference the treatment has made on all aspects of their lives makes it clear how important it is to tackle this problem head-on.
Pelviva’s website gives tonnes of information and you can watch videos of women talking about their experiences.
Anything that improves quality of life is worth a shot, and the thought of being able to jump on a trampoline with your kids, or dance with your partner long into the night without having to constantly pop to the toilet must feel like an unachievable dream to millions of women. But if we start to talk, start to realise we are not alone in dealing with this – one of many, bodily malfunctions that women have to face as they age – we will learn that we don’t have to give up. One of the women who talks about Pelviva on their website perfectly sums up what it feels like to be free of bladder leakage:
“I had 12 years of bladder leakage where I felt totally out of control and in 12 weeks [of using Pelviva]… nothing! I’m not even in panty liners anymore. I feel in total control. I think because of that one issue being solved in my life it’s actually fixed a lot more of what I didn’t realise were issues in my life, mentally, physically, I’m happier, I’m more confident, I’m even losing weight. It’s totally transformed me. I have a very happy husband; I instigate a lot of things these days! I am the one saying shall we go out this weekend. In the last four years I’ve never been like that. Seriously, it’s had a huge, huge impact on my life… In the last 4-5 years, I am not in any pictures. I didn’t like pictures of myself. I realise that was my lack of confidence. This [recent holiday] my husband was laughing, [there were] hundreds of pictures of me. That’s the first time I saw it – gosh, look at me, look how happy I am. It’s just incredible. It’s life changing.”