- “Real Housewives of OC” star Shannon Beador is working to raise awareness about stress urinary incontinence (SUI), a condition she currently has.
- SUI is the inability to control your urge to urinate in certain circumstances and is a disorder that affects many women.
- The most common cause of SUI is vaginal birth. However women who have never given birth can also develop the condition.
Eighteen years ago, Shannon Beador, who stars in ‘The Real Housewives of Orange County,” delivered a 9-lb., 9.5-oz. baby girl.
In addition to all the joy that having her first daughter brought Beador, she says the birthing experience also brought about bladder leaks.
“Now you compound that [birth] with the fact that I’m 55 and in menopause, and it’s a double whammy,” Beador told Healthline.
On the show, she says she’s known for having stress urinary incontinence (SUI) — the unintentional leakage of urine during activities such as coughing, sneezing, jumping, running, and other activities that increase pressure in the abdomen.
“You’re not going to see me run when I’m filming because I know it’s going to happen when I run,” she said. “I’m not the only person in the cast on my show who has the issue. I mean that’s how prevalent it is.”
Dr. Sarah A. Collins, a urogynecologist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, says while SUI is common, it is not normal.
“Most women absolutely should not expect to get it,” Collins told Healthline. “That said, close to 14 percent of women in the U.S. will have surgery for stress urinary incontinence by age 80.”
The most common cause of SUI is vaginal birth, notes Collins.
“This disrupts the support of the urethra, which then has difficulty staying closed during increases in pressure inside the abdomen,” she explained.
However women who have never given birth can also develop the condition.
“This may be because of hereditary factors involving connective tissue strength or health problems that cause significant increases in intra-abdominal pressure, such as chronic coughing,” Collins said.
Improving the support of the urethra improves symptoms of stress urinary incontinence, says Collins.
“This can be accomplished with nonsurgical methods, such as the use of an intravaginal device called a pessary, or with surgical interventions,” she said.
For years, Beador says she searched for ways to stop her symptoms.
“I did go to doctors to inquire about certain things, but the things I was told about were invasive and I wasn’t willing to take the risk,” she said. “I try to do things in the most natural way possible and I like the more holistic methods.”
Beador is currently using a product called Innovo, which is a pair of shorts with electrodes attached inside. The shorts are meant to be worn 5 days a week for 30 minutes at a time over a 12-week period.
Ruth Maher, PT, PhD, co-inventor of Innovo and professor of physical therapy at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, says the electrodes work by delivering 180 pelvic floor contractions, which stimulate pelvic floor muscles.
“There are several nerves that come off your spinal cord that go throughout the pelvis, and every muscle in there to cause it to feel a sensation or to provide a motor impulse, which makes the muscles contract,” Maher told Healthline.
During the birthing process, she says those muscles and nerves get stretched and even torn from their attachment sites.
Innovo only works when the muscles are still attached, Maher notes.
“There is research over the years that shows there is great variability in the innervation of these pelvic floor muscles. Years ago, we thought it was just one nerve called the pudendal nerve, but a variety of studies say that that is not true. What we do know is that the sacral nerve roots… provide peripheral nerves in the pelvic floor, so I used that knowledge to create something that would hit the sacral nerve roots and not just the peripheral nerves,” said Maher.
She came up with the idea for the product while working with women who have SUI.
“I became frustrated trying to teach women how to do [pelvic floor] exercises… With ultrasound imaging, I could see what was going on and not going inside the pelvic floor. Because there is no feedback mechanism for women to [discern] if they are doing these contractions appropriately or not, I knew I had to do something about it,” said Maher.
Having worked with electrical stimulation during physical therapy sessions, she came up with a method of providing kinesthetic awareness to the pelvic area.
“All the women I’ve seen use this over the years… once they felt what the contraction was like they were able to do it afterwards,” Maher said.
She conducted a study that followed women who used the product up to a year after they stopped. She says all the women reported gaining an awareness of their pelvic floor, so they were able to do contractions throughout the day on their own.
“I did recommend them using [Innovo] once a week to reenergize the area and to remind them how to do the contractions because women’s lives are so busy,” she said.
Innovo is currently available in the United States with a prescription from a doctor or through telemedicine on myinnovo.com.
However, Collins says she would not recommend it to her patients.
“While there are some effective therapies involving electrical stimulation for the treatment of urgency urinary incontinence, they are precise and not delivered through a pair of shorts at home,” said Collins. “There also are some treatment modalities that involve electrical stimulation to enhance pelvic floor physical therapy techniques, and these have varying degrees of reported success in the literature.”
Still, she says pelvic floor exercises can help with SUI.
“It is important, however, that women initiate pelvic floor muscle under the care of a physical therapist with special training in female pelvic floor treatment. Pelvic floor muscle rehabilitation should be tailored to a specific woman’s needs, and doing the wrong exercises could cause harm,” Collins said.
Beador plans to share her 3-month journey using Innovo on social media.
“My hope is to open the door for people to talk about this. When people do start the conversation, you realize how many people have the same issues in common,” Beador said.
While the topic can be embarrassing and even humorous at times, she wants women to feel empowered to open up.
“I have my bladder leakage stories- — probably a good one once a week — and it’s funny when I retell it, but it wasn’t funny when it happened,” Beador said.
Because she’s known on the show for being authentic and talking about topics many women avoid, she is embracing the opportunity.
“When this partnership with Innovo evolved I was so ecstatic to talk about it because it’s yet another topic I want to let people know is okay to talk about and they don’t need to be embarrassed of,” Beador said.
Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories about health, mental health, and human behavior. She has a knack for writing with emotion and connecting with readers in an insightful and engaging way. Read more of her work here.