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Silence is not golden
Many women hesitate to tell the doctors about their treatable conditions

By CATHY BREITENBUCHER

 

Women improving their health together is the concept behind Heart Secrets at Columbia St. Maryís. Participants learn from experts on diet, exercise, gynecology and midlife health ó and from fellow patients ó in group settings that last up to two hours. Besides these "shared medical appointments," women also meet individually with a preventive cardiologist. At the home or office, patients can use exclusive health tracking tools and other online resources.

Waist size, not weight, is a key predictor of cardiac disease, but it can affect women of any shape or size, or age for that matter. Stress, depression and menopause are factors, too. Add it all up and heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. Thatís why Heart Secrets, which launched last year, urges women to rethink their ideas on how to be healthy.

 

Prolapse is common and treatable

Itís time women get past "the Ďickí factor" and learn about treatments for pelvic organ prolapse, says Dr. Dennis Miller, a urogynecologist with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group in Wauwatosa.

The condition some call dropped bladder or dropped uterus is "exceptionally common," adds Miller. It occurs when the vagina, over time and often due to childbirth, loses its ability to support surrounding organs. POP can be painful and can contribute to incontinence. In severe instances, tissue can begin protruding from the vaginal opening.

Unlike 10 years ago, no longer is a hysterectomy a given. And, the picture is brightening further due to new-generation mesh devices (such as the Pinnacle, developed by Miller) that strengthen the vaginal structure. Minimally invasive surgery is advancing, too.

These days, Miller says, "Procedures are easier to tolerate regardless of your age or medical condition, and have much higher rates of success."

 

Don't stay on the sidelines with incontinence

Surgery turned out to be the answer when Chris Skumatz, an active mother of four, experienced stress urinary incontinence. Seven months after her operation in 2009, she completed a half-marathon and sent her doctor finish-line photos tagged "one satisfied customer."

Problems linked to coughing, sneezing or exercise are "classic young-mom leakage" according to Dr. Sumana Koduri, urogynecologist with Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin Womenís Incontinence and Sexual Health program, who treated Skumatz. Causes include childbirth, smoking, and chronic constipation, coughing or heavy lifting. Pre-surgical treatments include Kegel exercises (10 squeezes, three times a day) and pelvic floor therapy.

Urge incontinence, meanwhile, is the "gotta go" problem. When linked to an overactive bladder, it can be treated with medication or even a pacemaker-style device to modulate the nerves that go to the bladder.

Skumatz, who lives in Oconomowoc, needed slings implanted to support her bladder and uterus. "I just feel badly for women years ago who didnít have this as a possibility," she says.