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Urinary Incontinence


An in-depth report on the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of urinary incontinence.

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Foam pads (Miniguard, UroMed, Impress, Softpatch) with an adhesive coating have been developed for women with stress incontinence. They work as follows:

  • The pad is placed over the opening of the urethra where it creates a seal, preventing leakage.
  • It is removed before urinating and replaced with a new one afterwards.
  • The pad can be worn up to five hours a day and through the night.
  • It can be used during physical activity, although it may change position during vigorous exercise.
  • It should not be worn during sexual intercourse.

In one study, in women who used these products, the average number of leaks dropped from 14 a week to five. Women with more severe incontinence (an average of 34 leaks a week) had only 10 events, and when leakage occurred, it was slight.

Adhesive pads should not be used by women with the following conditions:

  • Urinary tract or vaginal infections.
  • Urge or other forms of nonstress incontinence.
  • A history of surgery for incontinence.

Urethral and Vaginal Devices for Women

Urethral Shields. Shields or caps (CapSure, Bard Cap Sure, FemAssist) that fit over the urethral opening are proving to be safe and effective in managing many forms of incontinence.

  • In a study of patients with stress incontinence, CapSure reduced urine loss by 96% within a week, and 82% of patients were completely dry. Side effects include irritation and urinary tract infections, although they are not severe.
  • In another study, 47% of women who used FemAssist reported complete continence, and 33% of the women reported continence was improved by more than half. FemAssist offered equal benefits for women with stress, urge, or mixed incontinence.

Urethral Tubes or Sleeves. Tubes or sleeves (Reliance Urinary Control Device, FemSoft) that fit into the urethra are also available for female incontinence.

  • The Reliance Urinary Control Device for women is a small tube inserted into the urethra using a reusable syringe. The device must be prescribed by a physician, who measures the womans urethra to determine the right size. The tip of the tube contains a balloon that is inflated against the urethra and blocks urine, preventing leakage. Every time a woman urinates, she pulls a string that deflates the balloon, then throws the old device away and replaces it with a new one. It is effective, but carries a high risk for urinary tract infections and most women report discomfort and irritation.
  • FemSoft is a silicone tube insert surrounded by a liquid-filled sleeve. When the tube is inserted into the urethra, the sleeve conforms to its shape and creates a seal at the bladder neck, preventing leakage. It is intended for one-time use and is replaced after voiding. This is a new product and information is lacking on its comfort and risk for urinary tract infections.

Vaginal Devices. Devices that support the vaginal wall also help support the urethra that is located next to it:

  • Tampons. Mild stress incontinence in women, particularly when induced by exercise, may be managed by using a tampon. Specially designed tampons (e.g., Contrelle Continence Tampon) are available, but even simple menstrual tampons may be helpful. As tampons push on the vaginal wall, it compresses the urethra. The following are some considerations about using tampons: covering tampons with K-Y jelly helps prevent the cotton fibers from sticking. Tampons can only be worn for short periods. In one study, 86% of women with mild incontinence remained continent during exercise sessions when using tampons. Out of this group, however, only 29% with severe incontinence remained dry.
  • Vaginal Pessaries. Vaginal pessaries are devices inserted into the vagina that support the inside of the vaginal walls. Pessaries are usually made of silicon and come in various forms, including donut or cube-shapes. They must be fitted by a health professional and are effective for vaginal prolapse or other vaginal structural problems. Serious complications are rare but can occur if the pessary is not replaced periodically.
  • Introl Bladder Neck Support. The Introl bladder neck support prosthesis is a flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina and has two ridges that press against the walls, supporting the urethra. Sizing the Introl is difficult, but success rates of 83% have been reported in women with stress incontinence. It can be left in during urination but must be removed and cleaned afterward. Introl can cause vaginal or urethral infections and may also be uncomfortable.

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