'Hey Mum, remember that time before you had me when you used to be able to exercise and not wet your pants!? SUI has been something I’ve suffered with since having Eadie. I know myself that I don’t do kegels enough, and I do suffer because of it. Maybe I need to print some signs up around my home to remind me to do them more often? So, let’s open up this embarrassing subject.' Ruby Tonkin
WHAT IS SUI?
Stress Urinary Incontinence is a very common condition, affecting an estimated 30% of women worldwide. The condition can have a significant impact on daily life affecting activities, relationships and emotional well-being. Two thirds of these women suffering from SUI are undiagnosed.
SUI happens when physical movement or activity, such as sneezing, coughing, running or heavy lifting, puts pressure on the bladder. Many women who suffer from SUI may feel embarrassed and isolate themselves, especially from exercise and social activities. A recent survey 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.
A recent survey, commissioned by Contura, showed that more than a fifth (22%) said the final “tipping point” for seeking help was experiencing leakage whilst running for a bus, whilst 16% said it was the moment their partner pointed out a wet patch.
What is the pelvic floor?
According to Dr Galyna Selezneva: “A woman’s pelvic floor is a broad sling of muscles which supports her bladder, womb and bowel. The muscles stretch from the pubic bone at the front of the body, to the base of the spine at the back. Much like a trampoline, the pelvic floor can stretch in response to weight and bounce up again. However, unlike a trampoline, the muscles or tissues can become overstretched and weak if they bear weight for a long time. Weak pelvic floors can result in urinary leakage. Being pregnant can place a lot of stress on the pelvic floor muscles: from as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy it can stretch and become weak. Each subsequent pregnancy, places additional stresses on the area, as it once again is put under stress and can weaken the pelvic floor further.
'WHAT I WISH I'D KNOWN ABOUT UI'
Vicki Williams (44), who suffered many of the embarrassing symptoms of SUI, opens up about the things she wishes she’d known about the condition sooner:
SUI isn’t just something that happens as you get older – Since coming to terms with the fact that I was suffering with SUI it started to have a massive impact on my day-to-day life. Even as a healthcare professional [Vicki is an operating department professional at York Hospital] I just used to think that SUI was something that was inevitable as you got older and leaks were “normal” after having a baby (Vicki’s son is now 13). However, it is not normal to leak every time you sneeze or suddenly have an uncontrollable urge to go to the toilet, regardless of your age. Seeking help for it was one the best things I’ve ever done.
SUI impacts your day-to-day life - Over the past few years, I’d really got into going to the gym, particularly working with weights. However, my bladder issues and those embarrassing leaks were really starting to impact on what I could comfortably do. Lifting heavier weights was becoming impossible - let alone more energetic forms of exercise such as jumping and skipping. I also found that I suffered more in the summer as I was constantly sneezing during the hay fever season. Playing with my son on the trampoline or running for the bus were things I had to avoid, and I know many of my friends had the same issues.
You don’t have to suffer in silence – I have always been very open and confident and therefore don’t feel uncomfortabletalking about issues such as incontinence. However, I know that many friends and other women I meet at the gym are suffering from the same problem - and generally, they are suffering in silence, too embarrassed to speak out. As soon as you have symptoms I would advise speaking to your GP, as SUI is something women shouldn’t just have to “put up” with, I wish I had got help sooner.
EXPERT COMMENT Leading Consultant Obstetrical and Gynecologist Ellis Downes “I’m noticing a real shift in attitude from women looking to treat pelvic floor disorders. Women are still looking for a long-term, permanent solution, but now they seem to be looking to be taking matters into their own hands and taking control of their own health, more so now than ever. Whether it is on their own, or in partnership with health care professional, they are keen to explore a wider range of avenues available to them to alleviate their stress incontinence. Instead of opting for surgical procedures, I’m seeing more and more women looking for non-surgical and natural treatments which they can take control of and carry out themselves.”
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Mr Steve Foley, Consultant Urologist at the Royal Berkshire NHS Trust (Reading), discusses everything women need to know about SUI.
Don’t let yourself get dehydrated – Most people with SUI instinctively try drinking less water to prevent the need to go to the toilet. However, dehydration concentrates your urine, irritating the sensitive lining of your bladder. Water regulates your body temperature and helps transport nutrients to give you energy and keep you healthy. Alternatively, drinking every 10 to 20 minutes is enough to hydrate your body. Too much water will fill your bladder quickly, resulting in a sudden need to urinate.
Speak to your GP to discuss treatment options – don’t be afraid to seek professional advice, surgical procedures can now be minimally invasive and stop leaking altogether. There are a range of treatments available for SUI and speaking to your GP can help you find the best one for you.
Make sure you include pelvic floor exercises in your regime - Exercising the pelvic floor muscles will improve incontinence in the majority of those who do them consistently and correctly. Isolating the correct muscle is difficult for some, especially if the muscles have become very weak. Having an exercise plan and sticking to it makes a difference in results. Exercise aides can assist with doing these exercises correctly.
REAL LIFE STORY
Kathleen Germs: 'After having my son 3 years ago I started having urinary incontinence (leaking) while I was running. I thought this was normal, so I continued to push through the leaking. However, nothing got better and instead things got worse. Luckily I started to see a pelvic floor physical therapist who helped me learn how to relax my pelvic floor (because it was too tight) and now I no longer leak. Now I can do my activities without leaking or worrying about leaking'