Device puts the cinch on female incontinence

Written by Kim O’Brien Root

For many women, the miracle of giving birth comes with at least one rarely talked-about side effect: forever after, if you sneeze, you’re going to pee a little.

If you throw on a panty liner in the morning, it probably won’t matter. But sometimes, it does matter. Female incontinence is nothing to laugh at, whether it develops after pregnancy or from a myriad of other causes, including menopause, injury, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, obesity or infection.

Oftentimes, just simply being female puts you at risk for developing incontinence. About 30 million women across the country are estimated to suffer from leaky bladders, and that only includes the women who talk about it.

“The problem is probably understated because of embarrassment,” says Dr. Geoffrey Kostiner, a urologist practicing in Williamsburg, Va. “Not everybody goes to the doctor. It’s hard for some women to come to grips with it.”

There are, however, ways to deal with incontinence. There’s surgery, medication, physical therapy, stimulation of the nerves that control the bladder and old-fashioned Kegel exercises—the practice of squeezing and releasing pelvic floor muscles to tighten them.

And now there’s InTone.

Approved by the Federal Drug Administration in February 2012, InTone is a medical device that combines biofeedback and electrical muscle stimulation to help women strengthen their pelvic muscles.

Basically, it does the Kegel exercises for you, in the privacy of your own home. You just have to get beyond what it looks like.

The clinical way to describe it is as a vaginal probe—it’s hand-held and inflates to fit any woman. Realistically, it’s large, purple and looks like something purchased from an adult toy store. It even comes with a silky purple pouch for storage purposes—and it’s hard not to giggle a little when you see it.

But doctors and users say InTone works, all the while lessening the need for surgery and medication. It’s available only by prescription and is backed by a 90-day guarantee. InControl Medical, the Wisconsin-based medical company that created InTone, pledges to refund the cost of the device—$595, if not covered by insurance—if a woman doesn’t see results.

Kostiner, whose practice is based at Tidewater Physicians Multispecialty Group in the New Town area of Williamsburg, is one of only a handful of physicians in the Hampton Roads area certified to prescribe InTone—others are located at Obstetrics & Gynecology Associates of Hampton and at Gynecology Specialists in Chesapeake, according to InControl Medical’s website, www.incontrolmedical.com, where patients can search for doctors who are prescribing the device.

It literally puts the power of healing in the patient’s hands.
— Dr. Geoffrey Kostiner

Kostiner has four patients currently using InTone. Two of the women have had almost complete resolution of their problems after just using it a short time, he says.

InTone works like this: Voice commands lead the user through inserting the device and then through a 12-minute session that forces the pelvic muscles to contract and release. It’s meant to be used at least six days a week at first, and then one to two times a week (or less) as part of a maintenance program. 

“It literally puts the power of healing in the patient’s hands,” Kostiner says.

Anne, one of Kostiner’s patients, has been using InTone since December. She was referred to Kostiner by her family doctor after complaining about what’s referred to as urge incontinence—the feeling of always having to urinate, even if you’ve just used the bathroom.

There are several types of incontinence—urge, characterized by the sudden, intense need to urinate; stress, loss of urine when the bladder is stressed from coughing, sneezing, laughing or other exertion; overflow, the inability to empty your bladder; and mixed, more than one type of incontinence.

One in four new mothers experience some leaking following vaginal childbirth, and one in six new mothers have it following cesarean section, according to the National Associate for Continence.

Up to two-thirds of women never mention their incontinence to their doctors, and two-thirds don’t use any treatment or product to help, such as the use of pads or Kegel exercises, which women tend to do incorrectly even after being taught how, according to InControl Medical.

Sometimes, incontinence is just mildly bothersome—enough that a woman needs to use a panty liner. But for others, it can affect day-to-day activities, such as being afraid to go to a store because you might not reach the bathroom quickly enough.

For Anne, her incontinence was causing her to have to get up multiple times a night to use the bathroom. It got so that the urgency was uncomfortable, and so she finally talked to her doctor.

Kostiner initially prescribed medication—which can calm an overactive bladder, but sometimes comes with uncomfortable side effects such as dry mouth and constipation. Anne was worried about the side effects, so Kostiner suggested the InTone device. 

After getting over her surprise at the sight of the device, Anne went along with it. Initially, using it was uncomfortable, she shares, but she pushed past the discomfort once she saw she was getting results.

After three months of use, she no longer has to get up to use the bathroom multiple times a night, which was disrupting her sleep and her life.

“As you get older, when you don’t get enough sleep during the night, it affects you,” says Anne, who is in her mid-50s. “It’s really worked well, and I’m so glad I was able to bypass medication.”

 

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