A woman smiles at a drugstore.
A new device available in drugstores can help women who suffer from bladder leakage. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Women who suffer from bladder leaks can now purchase an innovative new product in the drugstore to actually help prevent the leaks, as opposed to just absorbing them.

Last September, Poise Impressa Bladder Supports hit drugstore shelves. They’re an over-the-counter, tampon-like device inserted into the vagina to support the urethra and prevent urine from leaking.

But what do doctors think of the new device?

Raisa Platte, MD, a Spectrum Health surgeon who specializes in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, gives the product a thumbs up for women with stress urinary incontinence who don’t want to pursue surgical solutions.

“This is a very good alternative because it provides a lot of freedom,” Dr. Platte said. “You can swim, dance and travel. You can wear them for a full eight-hour working day.”

She noted that the product is designed to help women with stress urinary incontinence, a common type of bladder leakage that’s typically triggered by coughing, sneezing, laughing, lifting or exercise. This type of incontinence develops when the muscle that opens and closes the opening to the urethra loses strength, or when the pelvic-floor muscles become weak or injured.

Impressa helps by supporting these muscles, Dr. Platte said.

Until now, the only drugstore products that addressed the problem were pads or liners, which absorb the leaks. Prevention was limited to physical therapy and surgical options.

The new product is not designed to help patients who suffer from what’s known as urge incontinence, which occurs when a woman has a sudden and intense urge to urinate and a bathroom is not close by, Dr. Platte said. It also does not help patients with pelvic prolapse, which is a descending or dropping of the pelvic floor organs.

Dr. Platte said there have been a few small studies on the device, which showed 70 percent improvement of bladder leaks for stress urinary incontinence patients.

The key is to get the right fit, which means women should start with the Impressa Sizing Kit, which includes two samples of each of the three available sizes.

A woman should start with the small and see if she still experiences leakage, Dr. Platte said. If she does, she should move up to the medium or large size as needed and continue to purchase the right size in the future.

She stressed two situations when women cannot use the product: if they’re pregnant or as they have their period. Women should also not use the product for more than eight hours, to prevent possible increased risk of toxic shock syndrome.

A woman who wants to use Impressa does not need to see a doctor first. But Dr. Platte said she and her female pelvic medicine colleagues are available to discuss other treatment options, from physical therapy to surgery.

“They’re very easy to use,” Dr. Platte said. “But if a woman does not have success with them, then it’s better to see a physician.”