Nearly half of women who suffer from stress urinary incontinence may benefit from Kegel exercises and pelvic training, according to a new study.

But researchers also found that women with severe symptoms, or those who use antidepressants, may be less likely to get relief from this type of treatment.

Stress urinary incontinence is the most common form of urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control) seen in women. Symptoms include involuntary leakage that occurs with exertion, such as during exercise, or when sneezing or coughing.

The condition can be treated surgically or through behavior modification. It can also be treated by learning to contract the muscles that support the urethra and bladder -- in a timely and coordinated fashion -- through pelvic muscle training such as Kegel exercises.

Who Benefits From Kegel Exercises?

Although doing Kegel exercises has the advantage of fewer side effects and complications than surgical treatment, researchers say that pelvic training is time consuming and women who don’t respond well to it may feel frustrated.

In their study researchers looked at whether any characteristics of 447 women with stress urinary incontinence affected their chances of success with Kegel exercises. All of the women were evaluated prior to the start of treatment and received the same pelvic floor muscle training from a physical therapist.

The study showed that 49 percent of the women considered their treatment successful, and 51 percent said they experienced only some improvement, no change, or a worsening of symptoms.

Researchers found that women who had more than two leakages per day before treatment, experienced leakage after the first cough in a stress test, or used psychotrophic medications such as antidepressants, were less likely to be successfully treated by doing Kegel exercises.

If a woman had all three factors, she had only a 15 percent chance of being successfully treated with Kegel exercises.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Cammu, H. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, November 2004; vol 191: pp 1152-1157.