Like millions of women, Tracey Vlahos, 48, struggled with frequent bladder leaks — until she discovered the 5-minute cure that restored her confidence.
Oh no — not here! Tracey thought to herself, hoping that when she stood up, there wouldn’t be a wet spot on the seat. “I was enjoying a night out to dinner with friends,” Tracey recalls. “But when someone made a joke, I laughed so hard that I leaked urine. As I excused myself to use the bathroom, I was so nervous about standing up and worried that the back of my pants would be wet. Although I didn’t leak through my clothes, it was so uncomfortable. All I could think was, How bad is it?
Uncomfortable and Embarrassed
“Although it took me by surprise every time it happened, incontinence was nothing new. I’d started to experience leaking after the birth of my first child more than 20 years ago, but it didn’t happen all the time. Weeks would go by and I wouldn’t have any symptoms, but then it would start again — always at the worst possible time. Usually, about five days before my period, I’d experience pelvic pressure and leak more frequently. But I chalked it up to my age and thought it was normal.
“In recent years, it seemed to be happening more often, especially when I was at the gym. I would be taking a cardio class, and all of a sudden, I’d feel dampness. Sometimes I’d wear a panty liner, but when I forgot, I’d turn to the other women in class and ask, Please tell me I’m not the only one! We’d all get a good laugh, but deep down, I was tired of feeling so uncomfortable all the time.
“When it started to happen outside the gym, I grew more concerned. I tried to do Kegels, but I could never tell if it was working or if I was even doing it right. One day I leaked urine during a work meeting. I was wearing a loose-fitting pantsuit, so I knew it would be hard to hide. I ran to the bathroom and cleaned up. Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it felt, and although no one could tell, I felt so embarrassed.
“The bladder leaks also led me to feel insecure about having sex with my partner. Although he never said anything, I wondered if he thought my vagina felt too loose, and I worried about whether he was satisfied.
“I never thought about bringing it up to my doctor, and she never asked. Bladder leaks and sexual health aren’t usually topics women like to talk about because it can be embarrassing. I had dealt with it for years and figured it was just something I’d have to live with for the rest of my life.
A Simple Solution
“I’m a board-certified holistic health practitioner, and last year, everything changed for me when I was attending a work conference. That’s where I was introduced to Kegelbell (Kegelbell.com), a medical-grade device with light, interchangeable weights attached. It slips into the vagina like a tampon and strengthens the pelvic floor muscles. It made perfect sense to me! Just as I had lifted weights in the gym to tone my muscles, I realized this device could help my vaginal muscles get stronger too. I ordered it immediately.
“When it came in the mail, I started with the smallest bulb and lightest weight. To remind myself to use it, I put a sticky note on my bathroom mirror and made a commitment to do it for at least 30 days. While I was standing in the bathroom, I inserted the bulb, which is attached to a small weighted bell that hangs outside of my body. With my phone nearby to keep track of the time, I kept the device inserted for 5 minutes while I squeezed for 20 seconds and released for 10. I used it three times a week while standing at the mirror, doing my hair and makeup. It didn’t hurt or feel uncomfortable — it’s more like a gentle tug. I felt my muscles squeeze, and it got easier as I used it more.
“At first, I wasn’t sure if it was working, but after two weeks, I wasn’t leaking as much. Within 60 days, I wasn’t leaking at all. When I went to the gym, I could jump without leaking — it was an incredible feeling! My confidence soared. With stronger pelvic floor muscles, sex improved too. I felt tighter and more toned, and my orgasms were much stronger — even my partner noticed. As my muscles got stronger, I moved up to the higher weight and squeezed for 45 seconds and released for 30 seconds.
“I still use the Kegelbell twice a week, and I can’t remember the last time I leaked. Now, when I talk to women experiencing the same issues, I’m excited to tell them what worked for me. There are answers. You don’t have to suffer!”
A New Epidemic of Incontinence
As many as 68 percent of women regularly experience bladder leaks caused by weak pelvic floor muscles. And while doctors typically recommend Kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles and prevent leaks, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University reveal that more than 50 percent of women don’t do the exercises properly — and 25 percent perform them in ways that can make incontinence and discomfort worse. “The pelvic floor is a basket-weave of muscles that helps control urination by supporting the bladder and urethra,” explains ob/gyn Janet Williams, M.D. “But childbirth, genetics and hormonal changes associated with perimenopause and menopause can weaken these muscles, producing unwelcome leaks.”
Kegels do work when done correctly: Studies show the exercises enhance pelvic floor strength to lessen bladder leaks within three months. The technique Dr. Williams recommends: Squeeze the same muscles you use to stop your urine stream, hold for 8 to 10 seconds, then release. Do three sets of 8 to 12 exercises at a time, and repeat for a total of three sessions daily.
If you can’t get the hang of Kegels or find that they’re just not working for you, try one of these other easy pelvic floor strengthening methods to get relief from embarrassing leaks:
- Stretch away leaks: Pilates moves like lunges, planks, and the cat-cow stretch activate the pelvic floor muscles more effectively than Kegels, according to research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. “Pilates builds abdominal core muscles, which form a supportive system with the pelvic floor muscles”, explains Dr. Williams. Indeed, twice-weekly Pilates sessions reduced the frequency and severity of leaks by 44 percent in a 12-week study conducted at the Mayo Clinic. Though women in the study attended a weekly class, you can find free exercises by searching “pelvic floor Pilates” on YouTube.
- Pick up your phone: With detailed directions and visualization techniques, smartphone apps can help you strengthen pelvic floor muscles better than Kegels alone. The app Tät was developed by Swedish researchers and provides instructions for basic and advanced pelvic floor exercises and the ability to set daily reminders. In their studies, using the app daily reduced leakage episodes by 50 percent or more within three months — and eliminated them for some women.
- Consider a supplement: Vitamin D is crucial for muscle strength, and studies show that deficiencies in the vitamin can weaken the pelvic floor, making urinary accidents more likely. But in research conducted at SUNY Upstate Medical University, healthy D levels reduced the risk of leaks by 45 percent. A simple way to shore up stores: Take a supplement with 2,000 IU of vitamin D-3 daily, like Life Extension Vitamin D3 25 mcg. (1,000 IU) (LifeExtension.com/ffw).
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.