It affects an estimated one in three women, but could urinary incontinence actually be easily cured?
I don’t know about you, but my female friendship group is pretty open. It doesn’t matter how bad or embarrassing, we share everything with each other, from cringe-worthy drunk-dialled conversations with exes to regrettable one-night stands (‘I only slept with him because I liked his Christmas jumper’ is one of our group's more entertaining examples).
So after the birth of my daughter left me with post-partum bladder prolapse, and, subsequently, urinary incontinence, I felt overwhelmingly alone. None of my friends with children had ever mentioned this being an issue, and yet here I was, having to dehydrate myself before leaving the house, always carrying spare underwear and changing soaked pads multiple times a day.
It was only when one friend came over with her baby to visit and went to the loo three times before heading home again that I began to wonder. Eventually, she confided that she also never travels anywhere without a completely empty bladder – the risk is just too high.
Look, we’ve been friends for over 10 years. We’ve shared countless secrets and frequently discussed our sex lives in detail. And yet, the shame surrounding urinary incontinence is so great, she didn’t feel she could tell me about this all-too-common problem.
In fact, it's estimated that a staggering one in three women in the UK are affected by urinary incontinence. But the reality is that this figure could be even higher, since research shows that women are unlikely to report problems due to embarrassment.
But it’s a problem we really should be discussing as, according to charity Bladder Health UK, in 80% of cases, urinary incontinence can be cured or improved. All the while, millions of us across the UK are suffering in silence as the condition impacts our daily lives and our mental wellbeing.
In fact, one study from the University of Leicester found that amongst women with urge incontinence (the kind where you can’t hold it if you need to go), 56.6% reported symptoms of anxiety and 37.6% symptoms of depression.
The impact isn’t purely individualistic, either. As well as the environmental impact of disposable incontinence products, ‘incontinence is the primary reason why women end up in care homes,’ says intimate health expert Dr Shirin Lakhani, who offers treatments for urinary incontinence at her clinic, Elite Aesthetics, in Kent.
So, it’s high time we started giving urinary incontinence the attention it deserves. After all, shame thrives in silence – the more we talk about it, the more likely it is that women will start getting the help they need.
And since November is Bladder Health Awareness Month, there’s no better time to start. This is what happened when I tried two treatments to help resolve urinary incontinence.
What treatments can help urinary incontinence?
To help treat my bladder prolapse and urinary incontinence, I got in touch with cosmetic doctor and intimate health expert, Dr Shirin Lakhani. From her clinic in Greenhithe, Kent, she offers a selection of treatments which claim to help, including the Emsella Chair and Ultra Femme 360°.
When I saw the press release for Dr Lakhani’s treatments come through, I was in a dark place. After 18 months of incontinence, and interminable NHS waitlists, I was struggling, both physically and mentally. Unable to do anything more than walking in terms of exercise, I struggled to shift my postpartum pounds and regain my original fitness. Meanwhile, my self-esteem and body confidence plummeted.
So, by that point, I was willing to try pretty much anything, even if that did mean having a hot rod put up me on a regular basis…
After an initial, sensitive consultation, Dr Lakhani recommends a two-pronged approach to addressing my prolapse. The first part involves the Emsella Chair, a treatment which promises the equivalent of 11,400 pelvic floor exercises in just 28 minutes. No wonder then that it’s been nicknamed ‘The Kegel Throne’.
Quick recap: when it comes to incontinence of any kind, strengthening your pelvic floor is key. ‘The pelvic floor muscles lie across the base of your pelvis, to help keep the pelvic organs – bladder, uterus and bowel – in the correct position,’ Dr Lakhani explains. ‘These muscles support the pelvic organs which means that a weakening of them can result in pelvic floor problems such as prolapse and incontinence.’
This weakness can be caused by multiple things, from pregnancy and childbirth to the onset of menopause, which often results in your pelvic floor muscles weakening. ‘Menopause and perimenopause causes hormonal changes that can cause your pelvic floor muscles to weaken,’ says Dr Lakhani. ‘The majority of these changes are caused by hormone levels, and a small proportion of the changes are down to age and the natural collagen reduction that occurs as a result of ageing.’
But if you think urinary incontinence is only relevant to women of a certain age, you’re wrong. Incontinence can strike no matter how old you are, since high impact sport, constipation and being overweight are all risk factors that can result in the pelvic floor weakening.
So, how does the Emsella Chair supercharge those pelvic floor muscles? The answer lies in electromagnetic fields, which stimulate the movement nerves in the pelvic floor, causing the muscles to involuntarily contract and release hundreds of times a minute. Think of it as downstairs strength training.
The treatment targets the entire pelvic floor by bypassing the neurones in the brain, enabling the patient to use 100 per cent of the muscle, rather than the 40 per cent which can be activated by consciously tensing, explains Dr Lakhani. Best of all, it’s done fully clothed – you simply sit on something akin to what SpaceX would consider to be a comfy armchair, and let the Emsella machine do its work.
The electromagnetic pulses come as a bit of shock (no pun intended) when you first feel them, but they aren’t painful. It feels more like someone gently flicking you down there, causing you to involuntarily spasm (like when your knee jerks during a nerve test). The result is that you actually feel your pelvic floor working. Strange, yet satisfying.
It’s a six-session course of treatments, scheduled ideally twice a week. Since no tech can be used while you’re on the Emsella Chair, it’s also six half-hour blocks during which you are quite literally forced to take some time out. I brought a book with me to pass the time and soon actually began to look forward to my carved-out reading sessions.
What other treatments can you try?
‘Even after traditional treatments for the reduction of incontinence, such as pelvic floor exercises, the condition of your vaginal muscles and pelvic floor may not always improve,’ says Dr Lakhani. So, to complement my Emsella Chair sessions, she also recommends I try a course of three Ultra Femme 360° treatments.
This eight-minute vaginal-tightening procedure works by using radiofrequency waves to help stimulate your body’s natural collagen production and enhance blood flow. ‘It’s a fast and effective treatment for vaginal laxity, tissue quality, and incontinence,’ says Dr Lakhani. For me, that extra canal-tightening collagen translates into helping keep my prolapsed bladder in position, which in turn helps urinary incontinence.
‘Childbirth and ageing causing us to lose tone in all of our muscles, including the vaginal muscles, leading to a higher likelihood of stress incontinence,’ says Dr Lakhani. But as well as addressing incontinence, these treatments can also help women with sexual confidence, says Dr Lakhani. ‘By stimulating collagen growth, we can effectively treat the symptoms that are often causing us to have less libido than we should have.’ Perhaps unsurprisingly, she says it’s one of her most in-demand treatments.
It is, however, not for the faint hearted. Not that it’s painful, but it’s pretty intrusive. The Ultra Femme 360° device works by inserting a disposable tip into the vaginal canal, and moving it back and forth towards the cervix and out again. All the while, a small band at the end of the device emits radiofrequency waves, which penetrate deeply into the tissues in the vagina and gently elevate the temperature of the cells to over 40°C. This helps to promote and boost the natural process of new collagen growth, which is key to keeping things tight.
If that sounds, well, dreadful, trust me when I tell you that it’s actually not unpleasant, once you get over the initial embarrassment of having a stranger pumping a plastic device in and out of your vagina. In fact, so good is Dr Lakhani at putting her clients at ease that we pass the time chatting comfortably (even if I don’t always manage to look her in the eye).
Since I had the two treatments simultaneously, it’s impossible to credit one with being more effective than the other. But effective they most certainly are. I required one extra Ultra Femme 360° session to really reap the rewards, but the final result was astounding.
Within a few weeks, not only was everything noticeable tighter down there, but my leaking had significantly reduced. So much so, in fact, that I could go running once again without coming home soaked – something I was starting to think would never happen again.
My symptoms haven’t completely disappeared – stress incontinence still raises its ugly head whenever I sneeze and carrying my toddler for prolonged periods will inevitably make my leaking worse. But the difference from where I was before the treatment and today is incredible. To say it’s life changing really isn’t an exaggeration.
‘The treatments have an 85-90% satisfaction rate,’ says Dr Lakhani. ‘We talk in satisfaction rates rather than success rates as some incontinence simply can’t be resolved without surgery. So instead, we base these figures on the improvement women see after the treatment.’ My own experience only backs this up.
How much does it cost?
Of course, these treatments don't come cheap – £1650 for three Ultra Femme 360° treatments, £1500 for six Emsella Chair sessions (or £2850 for a combined package).
If you can’t afford a combined package, Dr Lakhani explains that in the initial (free) consultation, a treatment plan will be devised, picking the best option out of the Emsella Chair and Ultra Femme 360° to give you the best results for our specific your condition. But Dr Lakhani also points out that the cost of incontinence pads quickly mounts up – an expenditure which these treatments could erase. You have to hand it to her, she’s got a point.
The other question is this: what is continence worth to you? For me, I know that I would have maxed out my credit card for any treatment which would help me feel like I was even halfway back to my old self again.
The fact that these treatments meant I could recommence running was, quite simply, life changing. You just can’t put a price on that.
To book treatments with Dr Shirin Lakhani, visit elite-aesthetics.co.uk
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