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Stem Cells Put the Pressure on Urinary Incontinence

Ivanhoe Broadcast News, July 4, 2007

Those suffering from stress incontinence could be presented with a new method of treatment soon involving none other than stem cell technology.

Women make up the predominance of incontinence sufferers, with an estimated 13 million Americans suffering from some form of the condition. The cause of this condition varies with stroke, obesity, urinary tract infections, abnormal urinary tract, medicine, enlarged prostate, bladder infections, constipation, nerve damage, or surgery, all being possible causes of the condition. The condition can afflict persons of any age but a common in the elderly.

Whenever urethral pressure exceeds bladder pressure inside the body, the physical state is called continence. Reducing the possibility of incontinence or leakage, this unequal pressure balance keeps urine safely confined within the bladder.

Incontinence can be broken down into four major types. One common type occurs when patients still have sufficient control over their bladders to make it to the bathroom on time, but the urgency to urinate is frequent. Stress incontinence manifests when bladder muscles are initially weak to begin with and lifting a heavy object places undue pressure on the bladder muscles. Stress incontinence can even be caused by fits of coughing, sneezing, or laughing, that exerts pressure on the bladder muscles. A combination of urge incontinence and stress incontinence is referred to as mixed incontinence. Finally, a blockage in the bladder that makes it impossible to release urine in moderation, nerve damage, or weak muscle contractions, leads to overflow incontinence.

Stem cells may one day help men who become incontinent after prostate surgery. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Calgary are studying the procedure at this time. Technicians isolate stem cells from muscle tissue that has been removed from a patient's leg by doctors. With the hope they will strengthen pre-existing muscles in such a way that urges can be controlled, the stem cells are later injected into the muscles that surround the urethra. The researchers have demonstrated that 60 percent of patients experience improvement within the first year. The transplant itself, only takes five minutes.

Traditional treatments have ranged from targeted exercise to surgical intervention.

Oftentimes, they are difficult, time-consuming, and difficult to do without a professional, but Kegel exercises can be utilized to strengthen the sphincter muscles and pelvic floor.

To strengthen the pelvic floor muscles responsible for bladder control, brief electrical impulses can be administered as a form of electrical stimulation.

Medication can also be prescribed to aid those with incontinence. Medications that prevent leakage by tightening the muscles in the bladder and urethra or that inhibit contractions of an overactive bladder may be prescribed. Estrogen has also been known to precipitate normal functioning of muscles responsible for continence.

A form of treatment called vaginal cone therapy is sometimes used by women to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. The process involves placing plastic cones of increasing weight in the vagina and holding them there for 15 to twenty minutes, twice a day.

The bladder can be repositioned surgically in women where it has dropped down towards the vagina. Doctors hoist the bladder back up by securing it to bone, ligament, or muscle.

But with 85 percent effectiveness, the most preferred method treatment for stress incontinence among females requires surgery where the urethra is supported and strengthened by a mesh material that is inserted below the area.

Stem cells could resolve all of the current methods of treatment with a minimally invasive procedure. Surgery could be avoided altogether and equal or greater results may soon be attained with stem cell treatment.


 

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