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Researching Women’s Experiences of Urethral Bulking for Stress Urinary Incontinence

This guest blog is written by Suzanne Davis, postgraduate student, MSc Health Psychology.

I love running; the feel of the weather (whatever that may be) on my face, the stunning vistas I am lucky enough to have on my doorstep, and the feeling of freedom I have when I am out there running….on my own…..or in recent years really very early in the morning when I have less chance of bumping in to anyone, just in case I leak. Does this sound familiar?

Urinary Incontinence – an often unspoken story

It turns out the prevalence of female urinary incontinence can be as much as 70%1. Many of us live with it in silence, believing that it is simply part of growing older or the result of having children, or feel far too ashamed and embarrassed to seek help. The mental health impact can be severe; recent research indicates 66% of women with urinary incontinence are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and low levels of self-worth2. And that is just the women who have put up their hands to be counted.

My Story

I remember clearly the first time I experienced bladder leakage. About 6-months after the birth of my second child I started running; it gave me much needed headspace and was a great stress reliever – I have relied on it ever since. I was out running with a friend and towards the end of our run I suddenly leaked and I leaked considerably: I was soaked. I was grateful for the coverage my oversized t-shirt provided but I felt uncomfortable, hideous and was absolutely mortified. I could not wait to get home and hide away. This continued to happen sporadically for a few years but gradually got worse until it happened all the time when I ran; I also lived in fear of sneezing and coughing. None of my friends talked about having the problems I did and, as a consequence, neither did I. I had never read about it happening to women like me who were not in their eighties (I am now 44). My husband was great, but I felt very alone. Worse still, it stopped me doing things I loved – just in case.

After many years of trying (and failing) to find a solution (and yes, I do my pelvic floor exercises), the supportive pessary I had been using when I ran stopped working and my mental wellbeing nosedived. I tried yet again to get help and I was finally referred for urodynamics. Whilst not the most fun to have on an afternoon, the results confirmed I had stress urinary incontinence (AKA the involuntary bladder leakage during physical exertion and effort) and very slight symptoms of an overactive bladder. When it came to the chat about what could be done to help, I thought it would mean major surgery, so I was surprised to learn about urethral bulking, a much less invasive treatment involving an injection of a non-toxic, hydrogel via the urethra to support the bladder neck. I understood it would not cure me, but felt encouraged by the statistics indicating positive symptomatic improvement, some as much as 67%3. However, I wanted to know more about other women’s experiences of this treatment and what things were like afterwards, not just the statistics I was presented with. So I went away to think through my options and find out more about urethral bulking.

During my research, however, I found that whilst first-hand accounts of women’s experiences of stress urinary incontinence exist, as well as the impact that other surgical treatments had on physical symptoms and quality of life, detailed accounts of women’s personal experiences of urethral bulking were lacking and I felt needed. Having an insight into women’s experiences of this procedure would have provided me with an important aide alongside medical information and opinion when making a decision about the best choice of treatment for me in managing my own stress urinary incontinence, so I felt sure it could help other women too. I felt so strongly, I decided to do a research piece for my MSc dissertation – so, here I am.

Can you help?

urinary incontinence and urethral bulking research study contact details: Suzanne2.davis@live.uwe.ac.uk and QR code

I am looking to interview women on a one-to-one basis so they can share their experiences of stress urinary incontinence and the difference that having urethral bulking has made for them; it is my hope that other women might benefit from this knowledge in the future when it comes to their own treatment decision-making. Participation is confidential and all data anonymised meaning nobody will be able to identify who took part. So, if like me you have experienced bladder leakage and had urethral bulking, I would love to hear from you.

To find out more and register please visit https://bit.ly/31lOglk

Thank you for reading.

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