Improving the quality of life for women through research

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“Ultimately, we’d like to be able to treat people with a guaranteed success rate, with more longevity, and with minimal side effects and complications,” says Lawson Health Research Institute scientist, Dr. Queena Chou. “Until you understand the process of the condition at a basic level, sometimes you don’t have as good of an understanding of what will work clinically. Our research helps us to get better results that are longer lasting with a reduced risk to patients.”

Dr. Chou has been involved in research in this area for a number of years. “We do know that incontinence increases with age, and we do know that surgery can help with stress urinary incontinence, but surgery doesn’t last forever, and unfortunately recurrent or repeat surgeries are associated with lower success rates,” she says. “Because it is a quality of life issue, you have to decide how aggressively someone wants to manage their problem, and how much of an impact it is making on their lifestyle.”

Dr. Chou says that research helps to look at the different reasons for incontinence, what the risk factors might be, and why it happens at certain times and not at others during a woman’s life. “Even though we know surgery can work for some types of incontinence, our research is based on looking at risk factors that include heredity, pregnancy, and the environment.”

She says that women have a tendency to keep urinary problems hidden, as it is often an embarrassing problem to discuss, and a lot of women feel it is just a normal part of growing older without realizing the problem is treatable and can be dealt with. “We know in general that vaginal births have a significant effect on the pelvic floor, but it is probably a combination of factors that contribute to how the bladder functions,” Dr. Chou explains. “Some women have many babies and never experience any bladder problems, while others develop incontinence after having only one child.”

The major objectives behind her research focus on evaluating the outcomes of surgical and medical treatments, and developing improved methods to identify the risks and create ways to prevent the condition from occurring. Dr. Chou’s latest research project involves the creation of a database that will track patient risk factors, and will gauge the success of patient treatments over a period of years.

“Urinary incontinence is not a fact of life, and does not have to prevent women from doing the things they love to do,” she says. “Community awareness is the key to spreading the message that although the condition is not life threatening, patients do not have to suffer and sacrifice their quality of life.”