1 in 3 women experience episodes of incontinence, or leaking urine involuntarily. 50% of women who have delivered a child will experience incontinence. It’s more common than breast cancer.
So why doesn’t anyone talk about it? Why does it, on average, take women six and a half years from their first bladder symptom to get diagnosed with incontinence?
Dr. Pamela Moalli, associate professor, division of Urogynecology and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery, sees it all the time with her patients. “Many of my patients are very ashamed or embarrassed to discuss their bladder and pelvic health issues. In a way, they feel like it’s their fault. Once they’re in my office, I explain that it is extremely common and many women suffer with it. It’s something that women should talk about,” she said.
Incontinence and other bladder control issues can be life-altering for women. One of Dr. Moalli’s patients, Ellen, understands the struggles. “When I would exercise, hit a golf ball, or sneeze, I would lose urine. I have dealt with it for almost nine years now. It can really change your life,” Ellen said. Dr. Moalli and other physicians have started referring to pelvic health issues as diseases so people can understand just how important and impactful they are on patients.
After many known treatments for incontinence led to complications for Ellen, she was referred to Dr. Moalli. Ellen experienced pain from a procedure she had at another institute and was desperate for relief. Dr. Moalli was able to identify the source of her discomfort and resolve the issue. “Dr. Moalli is brilliant and an amazing surgeon. She really knows her stuff,” Ellen said.
Complications like Ellen’s show the importance of being seen by a specialist. Dr. Moalli explained, “It is imperative to go to a specialist because when you do over 100 surgeries a year, you know the anatomy and the materials you are working with. You understand the procedures inside and out.”
Women in the Pittsburgh area may not even realize they have a group of the best specialists in the field right in their backyard. The division of Urogynecology and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery is consistently ranked as one of the top programs in the country. Dr. Moalli explained, “We’re at the forefront of most of the cutting edge clinical trials to treat these disorders. We also have an excellent collaboration with the Urology department.”
Researchers at Magee-Womens Research Institute are investigating the most effective treatments for pelvic floor disorders. “Dr. Halina Zyczynski, and I worked to get this program placed on the map in terms of research. While we do research ourselves, we are also training outstanding fellows in this field in clinical outcomes research so that they too can become academic leaders in this field. You can be an outstanding surgeon, but if you don’t do research you will never advance the field for affected women,” Dr. Moalli explained.
New research and treatments have revolutionized the field in the last few years. “In the past, patients had to come to the hospital for a few days for an incontinence procedure that was often painful because there was an abdominal incision and we often harvested a piece of the patient’s tissue to use as a graft. Today, we can do incontinence procedures under a local anesthetic. The patients go home within 2-3 hours of the surgery,” Dr. Moalli explained.
Ellen is not completely free of her symptoms but she is a part of a clinical trial using stem cells and remains hopeful. “I definitely feel an improvement. It’s much better but not 100% yet,” she said. She wanted to share her story so other women could relate and seek help. “If people talked about it more, with their friends and with their doctors, then they would be sent to a specialist like Dr. Moalli and get relief.”
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Moalli or another specialist, please contact the Women’s Center for Bladder and Pelvic Health at 412-641-7850. To learn more about our research, please visit the Center for Incontinence and Pelvic Floor Disorders Research.