True story. Shortly after baby number four, I went back to teaching fitness classes at a local martial arts studio. As I demonstrated a star jack — a vertical jump with the legs going out and the arms clapping overhead — in front of the entire class, I had a sudden and alarming realization. That upward pressure and my innate desire to show off just a little bit, meaning I was really going for it, had an unexpected side effect: I peed myself. Literally. Peed my pants. Thankfully, I was wearing black compression tights, everyone was mostly focused on their own workouts, and while it felt like a ridiculous volume, it wasn’t enough to be running down my legs (can you even imagine?).
I made it through class and straight home into the shower, where I resolved to never attempt another star jack. Fortunately for me, this bladder leakage situation was temporary and I’ve been able to laugh, sneeze, and yes, star jump, in the years since with no problems. But a few years later, at coffee with a mix of forty-something friends, I found out I was one of the lucky ones.
Bladder leakage, or incontinence, is a mortifying issue for over 25 million Americans, and women are twice as likely as men to experience it. And here’s a fun statistic — one in four women over 18 deals with incontinence. Of the six of us on that coffee date, one used panty liners daily to deal with her bladder leaks, and another had made drastic lifestyle changes that included always knowing the location of the nearest bathroom and thrice-daily Kegel sessions to accommodate what she called her weak bladder. It was genetic, she explained, as she told us about her own mother, who had dealt with the same problem since her mid-forties. She warned us not to make her laugh too hard, and she plugged her nose to head off an oncoming sneeze. I mean, this is no way to live!
For years, the go-to treatments for urinary incontinence included lifestyle changes (cutting back on things like caffeine, alcohol, evening beverages, and specific foods), exercises designed to strengthen the pelvic floor, medications, and removable devices and injections. There are pros and cons to all of these options, and success rates are so-so.
But the hands-down best option, the one with a success rate upwards of 90%, is one you’ve probably never even heard about. It’s what Dr. Kent Sasse, a double-board certified surgeon here in Reno with decades of experience resolving incontinence for his patients, wryly calls “the best-kept secret in medical care.”
Blame it on the fact that there’s a lot of money to be made in solving the symptoms of incontinence — the pads and adult diapers and medications and exercise packages — rather than the issue itself. And then there’s the general stigma, and the misconception that incontinence is just an inevitable part of getting older. “Believe it or not, it’s embarrassing for some doctors to talk about this subject too” says Dr. Sasse. “The vast majority of doctors – and we men deserve some blame here – just don’t appreciate how impactful the problem is for a person’s quality of life. Add in the fact that very few doctors receive any training whatsoever about bladder and bowel control treatments, and you have a recipe for a terrible problem left untreated.” It really is a perfect storm, and the upshot is that anyone with the courage to seek assistance from their doctor very likely gets dated recommendations that don’t really help. And instead of persisting, they quietly deal with the symptoms on their own — symptoms that, unfortunately, only worsen with age. It makes me want to shout from the rooftops (and text all my friends, and their parents, and my parents, and basically everyone I know, just in case they’re silently suffering) — you don’t have to put up with this! There’s an easy way to fix it!
It’s called sacral nerve modulation, and it’s been FDA approved for more than two decades and recently refined. It isn’t quite a surgery, but the procedure does involve the placement of a tiny little device beneath the skin around the “back pocket” area of the body. A little lead wire passes through the canal of the sacrum, where it stimulates the pelvic floor muscles. Think of it as a tiny pacemaker, which was actually the inspiration. Bioengineers wondered whether they could replicate the success of cardio pacemakers, which essentially restore nerve signaling. Spoiler — they could, and they did, and today, this is a fast, simple, highly effective procedure performed with a local anesthetic. The most recent FDA trials showed over 90% success, which is heads and shoulders above anything else.
And while I may be the kind of person who shares a story about peeing myself with friends for a laugh, not everyone feels comfortable discussing incontinence. The real tragedy of that kind of silence is that it means there are far too many people finding their lives abruptly cut off at the knees. “I see so many vibrant, wonderful, and otherwise mentally and physically vigorous grandmothers in their 60s and 70s who have to curtail their lives because of bladder and bowel leakage,” says Dr. Sasse. They’re too embarrassed to keep doing the things they love, and they find themselves withdrawing more and more to accommodate leakage issues that are getting progressively worse — no matter how many Kegels they do.
Knocking down the stigma and the shame is the first step toward getting all the information you need to make an informed decision. If you’d like to learn more about sacral nerve modulation, Dr. Sasse can answer all of your questions, share feedback from patients who are over the moon with their results, and generally make you feel heard. And don’t worry — if there’s any doctor in Reno who isn’t uncomfortable discussing incontinence, it’s him.
Incontinence sucks, and while women may get the short end of the stick, it affects men too. No one needs to put up with it, and if you’re currently doing exactly that, I hope you’ll take a very small leap of faith and contact Dr. Sasse at 775-829-7999 today.
Jessica Timmons is a work-from-home mama, which sounds awesome until you actually try to do it. She’s been on this crazy ride for the last 13 years, juggling the busy little lives of her four kids and a demanding content writing business. The truth is, she just makes it all up as she goes. Doesn’t everyone? Check out her website, www.jessicatimmons.