International Women’s Day 2019: Why women need to control their choice

The UK-wide campaign, Control Your Choice was first launched to ensure that women of all ages are aware of the options available to them when it comes to making big decisions about their treatment for common health conditions, in particular, Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI).

On International Women’s Day 2019 (Friday 8th March), Control Your Choice is taking the opportunity to reiterate the scale of SUI and help to unpick many of the myths and “scare stories” surrounding treatment options.

It is estimated that 30% of women worldwide suffer with SUI – with around two thirds of these women living without an official diagnosis. It can occur at any stage of life, with key risk factors linked to pelvic floor problems following pregnancy and childbirth and the general ageing process.

A survey of 2,000 women, commissioned of behalf of the #ControlYourChoice campaign, showed that around 9 out of 10 women living with SUI are likely to simply “put up with” the condition, rather than seeking treatment and advice, despite any negative effects on their quality of life, relationships or ability to exercise.

The survey went on to reveal that well over a third of women (39%) said that they had waited up to 6 months before eventually seeking treatment and a staggering 12% had left it for up to 5 years or more.

So, as women across the world stop think about their health this Friday, let’s take a look at the options available to help them follow the best, individual treatment pathway…

Pelvic floor exercises – essentially, when carried out correctly and regularly, these help to strengthen the muscles around the bladder and vagina. Your programme should include doing a minimum of 8 muscle contractions at least 3 times a day for at least 3 months. If the exercises are helping after this time, you should continue and make them part of your daily work-out! Pelvic floor exercises are generally recommended before considering surgical options and a referral to a specialist physio may help you get started

Bulking agents – bulking agents, such as Bulkamid®, are a surprisingly lesser-known option than many of the more surgical approaches to treating SUI, despite being a safe and minimally invasive treatment (which means no cutting of the patient’s tissue or skin). The treatment is effective, ‘complication-free’ and has been used for over 10 years and is widely available on the NHS. In most – but not all – cases, it is carried out under local anaesthetic.

Bulkamid® is a water-based gel that helps the bladder neck to close when needed to help prevent bladder leaks and has an 80% success rate when used as a first line treatment. Patients report they “can’t believe” how quickly they are able to return to their everyday activities with most back at work – and even exercising – from between 24-72 hours!

Medical devices / Kegel trainers – if your pelvic floor muscles are weak, an inserted vaginal device may help to prevent leaks. Kegel balls, for example, are small weighted devices that can help strengthen a woman’s vaginal and pelvic floor muscles, ultimately leading to fewer leaks with minimal risk (although it does require commitment and effort!) Some Kegel programmes are now using SMART technology to help with pelvic training. Using an app connected to the device, women can track their progress and see exactly how hard (or soft) they are flexing their internal muscles.

Electrical stimulation – a small probe is inserted into the vagina and an electrical current will run through the probe, which helps strengthen the pelvic floor muscles while exercising. Patients may find the electrical stimulation difficult or unpleasant to use, but it may be beneficial if otherwise unable to complete pelvic floor muscle contractions without it.

Colposuspension – sometimes referred to as “hitch and stitch”, this procedure is a major operation which is performed under general anaesthetic. It involves making an incision in your lower abdomen, lifting up the neck of your bladder, and stitching into this new, “elevated” position. It offers long term treatment for SUI and over half the women who have the operation are cured or greatly improved – although the post-op recovery can take around 4 weeks with many women advised not to do strenuous exercise or lift anything heavy for six to eight weeks.

Vaginal mesh – Tape (commonly known as “TVT”) procedures involves a thin strip of surgical mesh inserted, through incisions into the vagina and groin and is threaded behind the tube that carries urine out of the body.

Following recent media reports and reviews concerning complications surrounding vaginal mesh, the procedure has been paused while extra precautions are put in place. Survey results also revealed that following the so-called “mesh media scandal”, almost half of the women questioned (48%) admitted that the press coverage would deter them from seeking any advice from a health professional about treatment options for SUI.

So, whether you are a new mum or have just “had enough” of putting up with incontinence then don’t delay and use International Women’s Day 2019 as the perfect platform to speak to your GP for expert advice about the choices available to you.

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