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A nonmedication solution for incontinence

Created date

May 10th, 2016

Urinary incontinence can have a negative effect on daily functioning and life enjoyment for women. Over their lifetime, about 45% of women experience at least temporary incontinence, and the risk goes up with age.

There are two types of urinary incontinence: stress incontinence, which is leaking when pressure occurs on the bladder from coughing, laughing, or running; and urge incontinence, which is when there is a strong urge to urinate, but the urine leaks before reaching the bathroom. Some women have a mixture of both types. Researchers are unsure why, but women with osteoporosis have more problems with urinary incontinence than women with healthy bones.

Medications are available for incontinence, but they often have unpleasant side effects such as constipation; upset stomach; and dry eyes, skin, and mouth. In fact, up to half of women who start taking these medicines stop taking them within one year, citing side effects as the reason.

For the past few years, some doctors and physical therapists have noticed that pelvic floor muscle training can have some good results, but up until now, there have been no randomized, controlled trials of physical therapy for these urinary troubles in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis or low bone mass.

Putting pelvic floor muscle training to the test

Researchers from BC Women’s Hospital & Health Center in Vancouver, B.C., and the University of Montreal, Quebec, recruited 48 women with urinary incontinence age 55-plus who also had osteoporosis or low bone density. Half of the participants underwent pelvic floor muscle training with a physical therapist for 12 weeks. They also participated in biofeedback and dietary counseling. The other study participants had a three-hour session on physical activity, diet, and medications used to prevent or treat osteoporosis; one-on-one sessions with a dietitian and physical therapist; and extensive follow-up discussions with health care providers. 

After three months, the women undergoing physical therapy for pelvic muscle training had a stunning 75% reduction in urine leaks. One year later, they still enjoyed the 75% reduction in leaks.

The study authors note that these results are significant for all women with incontinence, but especially for women with bone loss who can benefit from physical activity and muscle strengthening.