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Biofeedback therapy uses electronic instruments to measure and give feedback about the user's neuromuscular activity. It has been used to successfully treat both urinary and fecal incontinence. Scientific studies show that biofeedback for incontinence is an effective treatment. Certain populations and types of problems — such as urinary incontinence in women — seem to be more responsive to biofeedback for incontinence than others.
Doctors have long trained patients to exercise pelvic floor muscles to help prevent incontinence. People cannot see their pelvic floor muscles, though, so it is often difficult for a patient to tell if he or she is tightening the correct muscles. Biofeedback helps patients see exactly what is going on with their muscles.
Small sensors are placed on the body — either in the vagina, next to the anus or inside the anus — and these sensors detect muscle contraction. Feedback is provided through sounds and light-up graphs and pictures that show patients which muscles they are using and how strong those muscles are. The biofeedback allows patients to learn how to contract the correct muscles, then those muscles are used for bladder control or to control bowel movements.
Studies show that biofeedback seems to work most successfully to treat urinary incontinence in women. In trials, biofeedback therapy eliminated urinary incontinence for women and was shown to be more effective than other treatments, even medication. Biofeedback has also been used to treat fecal incontinence in adults and children. The evidence is not as strong as it is for urinary incontinence in women, but studies have shown that biofeedback can be used to successfully treat fecal incontinence in most people. It seems to be especially helpful in post-surgery situations.
Most studies on biofeedback for urinary incontinence in men have been done after the men have undergone prostatectomy, and these studies have shown mixed results. Some studies point to biofeedback as a successful treatment, but others showed that was not helpful. Limited studies have been done on biofeedback for urinary incontinence in children. Doctors say that it seems to work, but there is little clinical evidence.
Some types of biofeedback for incontinence focus on muscle strength, and others focus on muscle coordination, but this does not seem to significantly affect the outcome. Most biofeedback for incontinence sessions are 30 minutes to one hour long, with four to six sessions scheduled every other week. Doctors usually advise patients to practice the pelvic floor exercises between sessions. As with most incontinence treatments, biofeedback is most effective when patients attend all of their sessions and practice at home as advised.
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