Hold on to treating bladder leakage

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— Bladder leakage, also called urinary incontinence, is a health issue that some people are too embarrassed to discuss. Others simply live with the problem, wishing to avoid surgery and unaware that there are other treatment options.

Kim Miles and Mary Beth Strotbeck, physical therapists at SportsMed in Steamboat Springs who specialize in incontinence and women's health, would like to communicate openly about this condition.

"We're trying to get the word out that 80 percent of people who are living with this problem can get better with therapy alone," Miles said. "The majority do not need surgery."

Miles said most people who leak don't seek help for about seven years, on average. Reasons for this delay vary, although a common one for women is thinking that incontinence is normal. Although 70 percent of those who do have this condition are female, that does not mean it should be accepted as inevitable or untreatable.

Primary causes of incontinence among women are multiple pregnancies, hysterectomies or other surgeries, Strotbeck said. For men, prostate problems or surgery can cause leakage. Other causes not related to gender are muscle weakness, frequent bladder or urinary tract infections or just genetics.

Growing older brings a greater chance of developing incontinence. Miles said there is a higher incidence of leaking among persons age 65 and above.

Incontinence is sometimes accompanied by serious pelvic pain. Miles has treated patients who suffered pain every day of their lives. Common causes of this condition are endometriosis, bladder inflammation or abuse.

For the past eight years, Miles has worked to improve the lives of many incontinence patients. Three of them immediately come to mind.

"One woman had had bladder repair surgery but was still leaking when she coughed or sneezed," Miles said. "We provided biofeedback, therapy and a home exercise program, and she was completely dry in three months.

"Another woman who had given birth to four children was leaking urine and feeling she always had to rush to the bathroom," she said. "She was referred to therapy by her obstetrician/gynecologist. In 10 visits, she had improved dramatically.

"A man in his early 60s was still leaking four months after having had a prostectomy," Miles added. "This was due to the weakness of his pelvic floor muscles. He became dry after about six months of therapy."

Miles and Strotbeck will present information about incontinence Thursday in a program called "Gain Control of Your Bladder, Gain Control of Your Life." The 6 p.m. presentation at Yampa Valley Medical Center is part of the hospital's Taking Care of Me family health series.

"We will be discussing the types of incontinence, the reasons for the dysfunction and what options are available," Strotbeck said. "Some people go straight to surgery, not realizing there may be an intermediate step that could eliminate the problem without an operation."

Miles always recommends that a patient discuss any incontinence issues with a physician first. Sometimes an accompanying medical problem could be causing the symptoms. Also, a physician's referral is needed before therapy can start.

"Somebody with a mild case can come to therapy once, learn the exercises and do well with no further therapy," Strotbeck said. "We hope people will come Thursday evening and learn how to self-treat this problem."

Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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