For Sharon Beeching, 51, running is like meditation — her time to get away and clear her mind. But, two years ago, she noticed an uncomfortable change in her body. With every warm-up jumping jack and running stride, she would sense urine leakage.
Beeching doesn’t listen to music as she runs, preferring the sound of nature to allow her to unwind and gain perspective. However, the running that was supposed to be her stress-reliever was making her feel worried and self-conscious.
“I felt so uncomfortable. I couldn’t stop thinking about it the whole time I was running,” says Beeching. “Leakage was the elephant in the room, I didn’t really want to talk about it at first.”
In order to continue running four times a week and participate in community races, she began relying on sanitary napkins. But, she still couldn’t completely relax.
Urinary incontinence is a common condition among women. In fact, 85 percent of all such cases are among women. Factors such as multiple childbirths, menopause, diabetes and neurologic diseases or injuries, such as stroke, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s, can lead to the development of this condition.
Taking the First Step Toward Relief
After several months of embarrassment, Beeching decided to talk to her primary care doctor about the leakage. He recommended David Ginsberg, MD, a renowned surgeon specializing in female urology at Keck Medicine of USC’s Institute of Urology.
Following a set of diagnostic tests, Ginsberg explained that age and hormonal fluctuations, combined with the stress of giving birth to her daughter 11 years ago, was causing Beeching to experience weakness in the muscles that support the bladder. Ginsberg recommended a urethral sling procedure to help support the urethra and the bladder neck.
With a couple of small surgical incisions, a sling was placed under the urethra like a hammock. The sling helps supports Beeching’s urethra, especially when she is running or doing other activities, and prevents involuntary leakage. The procedure took about half an hour and Beeching went home the same day.
“This is not an easy topic to talk about. It’s very personal,” says Beeching. “Dr. Ginsberg was great. He is professional, but also very personable. He put me at ease right away.”
In addition to urinary incontinence, the USC Institute of Urology provides services for patients with conditions including vaginal prolapse, neurogenic bladder dysfunction, overactive bladder, pelvic pain syndrome, and both male and female voiding dysfunction.
Ginsberg and his team recently surveyed primary care doctors about incontinence. The overwhelming response they received was that patients are typically too embarrassed to talk about their condition and often don’t bring it up during routine check-ups.
“These issues can be extremely impactful on your quality of life,” says Ginsberg. “Some women have to put on three or four pads to function. It’s embarrassing, and it keeps them from doing normal activities and getting together with friends and family.”
Both Ginsberg and Beeching wish more women knew that they don’t have to accept incontinence as a normal consequence of aging. Many options are available. Beeching started running again six weeks following surgery and is thrilled not to rely on sanitary napkins anymore. She recently completed her second half-marathon in Santa Barbara and continues to run four times a week.
“I’m very honest with my friends now,” says Beeching. “You don’t have to just live with this. Before the surgery, I was constantly thinking about it with every step I took. Now, it’s a non-issue.”
– Elena Epstein
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