A mum of three is on a mission to break the stigma surrounding bladder leakage – saying that if men suffered with the same condition “it would not be ignored.”
Emma Bradley, 44, a blogger, started suffering with stress urinary incontinence or SUI, where stress on the bladder or urethra during physical activity can lead to bladder leakages, when she joined a local fitness class in May 2018.
Concerned about leakages at the gym, embarrassed Emma, who has three children – Chloe, 21, Dylan, 17, and Erin, 12 – with her husband Lee, 46, a teacher, wore dark leggings and sanitary towels to her weekly classes and avoided running and jumping.
Ashamed and suffering in silence, Emma, of Gloucester, was amazed when, enjoying a drink with her gym buddies earlier this year, they openly discussed their own incontinence issues, adding: “I was shocked when, after a few glasses of wine, my fellow classmates admitted they suffered with bladder leakage,
“I thought it was just me!
“If men had this problem, it would be fixed right away. We need to be more open about women’s health.”
After having her third child in 2010, Emma says leakage became an issue, but it got worse when she started regular exercise classes at a local gym in Gloucester – Zuu Fit.
“Obviously, since having kids it’s on your mind,” she said.
“But I really started to notice it over the last few years. Then, when I started at Zuu Fit in May 2018, I became really aware of it.”
She added: “It’s like CrossFit really, you do lots of high intensity work outs and I was worried about leaking in class.
“I stayed away from the trampoline and any jumping exercises like burpees or exploders. Everything I did I had to consider first whether it would cause me to leak.”
Scared she would wet herself at the gym, Emma started taking extra precautions by wearing dark leggings and using sanitary towels to catch any leaks.
Too embarrassed even to talk to her doctor about her problem, she said: “I didn’t tell anyone.
“I thought it was just me. I never had anything happen in class because I was always so careful. I wore dark leggings and sanitary pads.
“There just seemed to be no solution. During class I would panic that I was leaking and at the end rush off to the toilet to check that I hadn’t had an accident.”
She added: “I would laugh in embarrassment with my friends at class about getting on the trampoline. It didn’t occur to me that it was something that affected so many women.
“I just felt so anxious about it.”
Then, on a night out with her gym classmates this year, as they discussed their own problems with embarrassing leaks, she realised she was not alone.
“When I heard other women talk so openly about it, I realised it was a widespread problem and couldn’t believe that we were just expected to cope with it,” said Emma.
“There is such a taboo about urinary incontinence and hearing other women talk about bladder control really helped me.
“To know that you’re not alone is really important.”
Stress urinary incontinence is caused by the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles or urethral sphincter.
Pressure, like laughing, coughing or exercise, can cause leaks.
Yet, according to research conducted by the makers of Contrelle – a hidden bladder support for women with SUI, it is a condition affecting one in three women over the age of 18 and two in three over the age of 40.
Also, 40 per cent of women admit they are anxious about exercising due to their fears around bladder control.
Now Emma wants to end the stigma regarding bladder leakage and is calling for more education around the subject, after she discovered there were effective treatments.
“I think if it was a problem for men it would already be fixed,” she said.
“It’s like anything to do with women’s health, it just doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
“I think we need GPs to speak to women about bladder leakage.”
Stress urinary incontinence affects one in three women over the age of 18 and two in three over the age of 40.
40 per cent of women admit they are anxious about exercising due to their fears around bladder control.
She added: “It needs to be something that’s advertised in dressing rooms and loos, so women don’t feel they are alone.
“We have to work to end the stigma and taboo around it.
“Women need to be asked about it and we need to start a dialogue about bladder leakage.”
Since Emma started using a Contrelle device, which is inserted like a tampon and supports the bladder neck and urethra to prevent leaks, her anxiety about exercising has disappeared.
She said: “I started using it in September 2021 and it changed everything. I don’t suffer with leakages anymore and I’m much more confident in the gym,
“I didn’t know there were treatments. It was only by luck that I was sent a sample pack one day and I decided to try it.”
She added: “We laugh about incontinence to cover for the fact we’re ashamed or embarrassed.
“But it affects so many women and we need to do more to let them know they don’t have to suffer in silence.”
Consultant urogynecologist Ash Monga from Southampton University Trust advises a combination of treatments to solve SUI issues.
He said: “Many women find pads uncomfortable or unsuitable, especially when seeking a solution to SUI and particularly when exercising.
“Contrelle is discreet and it can be used by the majority of sufferers as and when needed, in combination with pelvic floor exercises or when waiting for surgery.”
To find out more go to www.contrelle.com