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Why it’s time for a women’s bladder health revolution

Elan Ziv

Have you ever been embarrassed to discuss a medical condition with your doctor? You are not alone.

My passion — and my career — is in women’s health. For more than 30 years, I have served as a gynecologist and a urogynecologist. I’ve interacted with thousands of women and seen first-hand the embarrassment and fear that many have when it comes to discussing sensitive, personal health symptoms.

I encourage all women to find a doctor they can confide in. However, the fact remains that many choose to suffer in silence rather than discuss certain issues with their doctor.

For this reason, I’ve devoted more than 10 years to researching and developing new solutions that empower women to take more personal control over their bodies, including management of gynecological conditions.

Physicians will always be needed for diagnosis, treatment and surgery pertaining to many illnesses, diseases and conditions. However, certain areas require women to have a high level of dependence upon the medical community, as they seek the ability to lead normal lives.

With a bit more attention and a lot of creativity, we can decrease this dependence, and offer women the normalcy they deserve.

This week is National Bladder Health Week, a nation-wide campaign aimed at raising awareness and inspiring individuals to take an active role in managing their bladder health.

More than 35 million Americans experience bladder health problems. In fact, some 25 to 45 percent of adult women suffer from urinary incontinence, no matter their age. While incontinence is not considered a debilitating medical condition, it can significantly impact quality of life, especially as the condition tends to build up and become more problematic over time.

Too often, I’ve sat with women as they finally confessed (with embarrassment) to this all too common problem. Their anxiety was my motivation to invent a solution that helps stop urinary leaks before they happen. To me, the most exciting outcome of the innovation was that women can now effectively and discretely manage incontinence, before leaks happen, according to their lifestyle and without a visit to the doctor.

My new urinary incontinence support product, produced by Kimberly Clark, can be purchased off the shelf at local drug stores, and it serves as a more dignified and comfortable solution than urinary incontinence pads.

The next frontier in women’s health is even more serious. It’s a different problem facing the same anxiety and communication obstacles. Most women will not raise their concern with their physician. Pelvic organ prolapse is estimated to affect, in some way, almost 54 million women in the United States, as well as millions of women around the world.

POP occurs when one or more of the pelvic organs bulge into the vagina, or even outside the body. This condition, though not life threatening, is associated with reduced quality of life, sensation of “heaviness” or a “drag” in the vagina or even outside the body, discharge, disturbances in voiding or defecating, sexual dysfunction, etc. Finding such a lump may be terrifying for women, many of whom think they have a tumor protruding from their bodies. Yet, POP manifests itself at various stages and is manageable with treatment.

But first, we need to change the communication. Treatment is not possible for women who remain silent. Today, only 3.5 million American women even disclose that they have a problem; and of those, only 50 percent receive treatment. Current solutions for POP include pessaries that are inserted into the vagina in order to provide support and lift up prolapsing organs. However, in many cases, insertion and removal of pessaries is associated with discomfort and pain. These pessaries can only be prescribed by a doctor, and in most cases require a trip to the doctor’s office to be changed every three to six months. Pessaries also significantly limit — and in many cases — completely eliminate the ability to have a sexual relationship.

As with new developments in the treatment and prevention of urinary incontinence, something must be done to allow women greater control of their treatment options for POP. I believe the medical community must work together with this focus in mind.

It is clear that with innovation, creativity and sensitivity to women and their quality of life, many new solutions can be developed. But innovation concerning women’s health can only come as a cooperative effort between women and the medical community. When women feel the freedom and empowerment to speak openly with their doctors about the issues that concern them, those doctors can open their minds to the possibilities, such as the urinary incontinence innovation that Kimberly Clark is now selling. The real satisfaction for a physician is offering solutions that lift the concern, discomfort, pain and burden from their patients.

So, women must not despair. A new revolution in women’s health management is just beginning. There is no longer a need to suffer silently. With the development of innovative discrete, self-management solutions, a new era of “medical liberation” is right around the corner.

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