Most of us think nothing of seeing a doctor for a sprain or a sore throat. But when it comes to incontinence, many suffer in silence.
Maybe we were told it is part of aging and we must live with it. Or are we just too embarrassed to talk about it?
“The first things we teach our children is to learn to control their bowels and bladders and we praise them for this accomplishment,” says Jocelyn Craig, M.D., medical director, Pelvic Health Program, MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center. “And when we can no longer control it, that can create a feeling of shame.”
The silent suffering is far from easy, when you must know exactly where the bathrooms are wherever you go, and when wearing pads and adult diapers become part of everyday life.
“Incontinence is one of the major reasons people ultimately enter nursing homes,” says Dr. Craig, a board-certified urogynecologist.
“The reasons people leak urine or feces are many and different, and may be part of another medical condition,” she says. “When you look at the anatomy of the pelvic area, you see there are many organ systems in a small space, so symptoms could overlap. A bladder issue could be related to a problem in the bowel, or the reproductive system.”
Finding the cause of the problem and the best treatment is the aim of the Pelvic Health Program sub-specialists, which include urogynecologists, gynecologists, urologists, gastroenterologists and specialized physical therapists. A doctor compiles a patient’s medical and lifestyle history, as well as the list of symptoms, and shares the information with other members of the Pelvic Health Program. The discussion is important because each member of the team can view the patient’s condition through their specialized knowledge, Dr. Craig says.
The spectrum of treatment options for pelvic health problems include medication and several types of surgery, as well as lesser known approaches, such as implants, internal pelvic floor physical therapy, injections, laser therapy and acupuncture, the doctor said.
“We also deal with how lifestyle and diet affect pelvic health,” Dr. Craig says. Diet, a sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, chronic constipation, chronic cough and childbirth are factors that can worsen the condition. People who have had cancer surgery and radiation have an increased risk for pelvic pain. There also are genetic issues.
“There is no need for people to suffer in silence,” she says. “They have a right to feel healthy, and there are many ways to help enhance their health.”
Dr. Craig recommends that sufferers call the Pelvic Health Program at 1.800.MEMORIAL and describe their symptoms. A trained representative can give referrals to the physicians who would be most helpful.
“Our doctors understand that pelvic health issues are highly personal and sensitive, and we approach all of our conversations with compassion and care,” says Dr. Craig.
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