Sometimes you don’t know you’re looking for something until a television program speaks to you.
Stephanie Fecteau, a 41-year-old Spanish teacher from Torrington, suffered with bladder leakage for years before she saw a segment on the news about a minimally-invasive procedure for women with similar problems. Millions of women — one in four premenopausal women under the age of 50 and one in three over the age of 50 and postmenopausal — actually suffer from some form of urinary incontinence, which affects their health and quality of life.
But most, like Fecteau, suffer silently.
The most common type of urinary incontinence is stress urinary incontinence, which involves the leaking of urine when you laugh, cough, sneeze or exercise. This is the result of a weakening in the muscles and tissues supporting the bladder.
“No one talks about this. It’s embarrassing!” she said of the leakage, which began 13 years ago after the birth of her youngest child. She coped with the problem by wearing pads, panty liners and even internal, tampon-like products, but the sense of urgency she felt continued to affect all aspects of her life.
“I’d be running to the bathroom between classes because I always felt like I had to go,” she said.
Fecteau said she began avoiding things she enjoyed in life like going to the gym and Zumba classes because all the movement involved in the workouts would cause her to leak more often. She even stopped showing her beloved horse, which she rides daily.
“I show English so we wear bright white pants. There’s no way to wear a pad under that and not have it show,” she said of her passion.
Then she happened to catch a local news segment that focused on the work being done by Dr. Elena Tunitsky-Bitton, a urogynecologist with the Hartford HealthCare Tallwood Urology & Kidney Institute at Hartford Hospital. Fecteau couldn’t believe what she was seeing and that there was a potential cure for her condition. She called the doctor’s office immediately and made an appointment.
In December 2017, she left the classroom just a few days before Christmas vacation started and had the surgery.
“Many women do not talk about this problem with their friends and do not bring it up with their doctor,” Dr. Tunitsky-Bitton said. “They change their lifestyle and often stop hobbies they enjoy. Other women accept it as ‘normal,’ after all we are told this is what happens after having a baby. Just because it is ‘common,’ doesn’t mean it has to be ‘normal.’ There are various, very effective treatments available.”
During the minimally-invasive procedure, Dr. Tunitsky-Britton, who is board-certified in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, inserted a special sling to support the urethra. The same-day vaginal surgery takes just 30 minutes and has a success rate of 85 percent in treating stress urinary incontinence. That made all the difference for Fecteau.
“It’s 1,000 percent better!” she exclaims, adding that, “I still find myself crossing my legs when I sneeze, then I think, ‘I don’t have to do that anymore! I can sneeze and not pee!”
Dr. Tunitsky-Britton said the first important step in addressing stress urinary incontinence is having the conversation with a doctor.
“It can be difficult to talk about such problems, even with a doctor, but healthcare providers, especially urogynecologists, are used to talking about these problems. There are treatments available that help women lead a more active, social and productive life! Every day women tell me, ‘I have my life back.’ For me as a physician, there is nothing more rewarding,” she said.
For more information on urogynecology and female urology at the Tallwood Urology & Kidney Institute, click here.