Simple procedure creates ‘little hammock’ to help women return to favorite activities.
At least one-third of Americans ages 40 and older report some level of urinary incontinence at least sometimes, according to the American Urological Association, but many simply accept their condition as an unavoidable and inevitable part of getting older.
It is nothing of the kind, according to Dr. Erik Torgerson.
He’s referring to the condition called stress urinary incontinence, where coughing, sneezing and physical activity such as running or lifting can result in a little leakage. It often appears after childbirth.
“This is a condition that can affect women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, in their most productive years of working and raising kids,” he says. “Fortunately we have a surgical treatment that’s highly effective and can let them get back to their previous quality of life.”
Dr. Torgerson is a urologist and surgeon with a special interest in voiding dysfunction, practicing at the Swedish First Hill Campus in Seattle.
He treats generalized urological conditions such as kidney stones, prostate cancer, bladder problems and urinary tract infections. However, his focus on voiding dysfunction addresses such conditions as overactive bladder (frequent or sudden urges to “go”) and “urge incontinence” (when a stimulus such as the sound of running water causes leakage).
“The first line of therapy for many bladder dysfunctions is behavior modification. Are they drinking too much water? Too much caffeine? And a physical therapist can help them strengthen their pelvic floor,” he says.
Generalized bladder dysfunction typically appears in the later years, and sometimes goes untreated because of embarrassment, he said.
“Seniors will start altering their routine as a result of this problem. They may stop going out in public. They may stop going out to dinner. They may turn down social events that they would otherwise like to participate in for fear of urinary frequency and worse if they have an incontinent episode,” he says. “They may stop going to the movies, the theater, the symphony because they don’t want to be the one who has to ask everyone get up in the middle of the symphony and ask everyone to move.”
But patients who come to Dr. Torgerson with stress urinary incontinence are typically in the prime of life. Rather than see them “live with” the problem, he prefers for them to live with the solution: a 30-minute surgical procedure to create a mid-urethral sling, which he likened to a little hammock under the urethra to provide support and end the leakage in the vast majority of cases.
Dr. Torgerson recalls a mentor at UCLA, where he did his residency, who called stress urinary incontinence a “social cancer.”
“It’s not a life-threatening condition but it will lead to an alteration of your activities and general decrease in the overall quality of life,” he says. “Mom stops going to the gym because every time she steps on the treadmill she leaks. She can’t go on a trampoline with her kids, can’t chase a soccer ball because when she does she’s going to leak.”
“These poor ladies, they’re wearing pads in their 40s. They’re worried they’re going to have to live with incontinence the rest of their lives. I have some of the most grateful patients. It is incredibly gratifying to give them back their lives.”
Swedish Pelvic Health is a leader in pelvic health disorders. We provide coordinated, concierge care through care team collaboration and nurse navigation. Your health care team includes experts in urology, gynecology, colorectal, rehabilitation services, imaging and pain management. Reach us at www.swedish.org/pelvichealth or 206-386-2117.