This is Part 2 of Tuesday's, April 27, 2021, blog Misbehaving Bladders and Cluster Drinking - A Novel Approach, Part 1.
Bladder capacity ranges from around 400-500ml (13-16 oz). The use of a measuring cup or water bottle can be very helpful to teach this concept. We certainly don’t have to strive for a full bladder volume, but it is important to illustrate that 2-3 ounces are in fact “just in case” voids. I explain to patients that in situations of overactive or irritated bladders, the receptors in their bladder walls are hypersensitive and sending “false alarm” messages when only a small amount of urine is present. The kidneys are always active and refilling the bladder, so it will never be totally empty per se, therefore it must be desensitized and retrained to be a viable, reliable, and reasonably comfortable storage vessel.
With the Cluster Drinking Approach, it is important to try and drink the fluid in a short enough period of time to ensure an increased rate of bladder filling for this to be effective, but you must be careful to monitor the bladder irritability with the training. A fuller bladder will experience more pressure, but this also helps with urine flow during voids. We then embark on this process of retraining and using their bladder diaries to help us with detective work to determine optimal amounts of fluid intake in each cluster and the optimal timing of fluid intake, number of clusters, etc. for their daily schedules. It may take some time to get used to the new habits. It can be hard for some patients who are used to sipping on their water bottle all day long, and they can feel dehydrated. This is a habit and learned response and can be retrained with some gradual investment in the process. Once patients experience the rewarding outcomes, they are usually willing to make the changes.
Based on diary findings, we modify types of fluids as necessary, my motto being: minimal disruption to achieve desired results. Why give up coffee and all favorite beverages if not necessary? Sometimes making modifications on timing and amount of intake works just fine, other times we tweak the beverage types. I also teach and integrate urge suppression strategies (USS) as well, to help with the process of retraining; and of course, address breathing, pelvic floor dysfunctions, connective tissue restrictions, and chronic constipation, but the variable which sets this approach apart is the cluster drinking.
According to Washington state urogynecologist Elizabeth A. Miller, MD FPMRS, a practitioner at Overlake and Swedish Medical Centers, the Cluster Drinking Approach works similarly to some OAB medications in training your bladder to hold more urine. She endorses the Cluster Drinking Approach as a viable first-line treatment option since it works naturally without harmful side effects. Results are often profound and rapid even for folks who have been struggling with these bladder issues for years. Likewise, leaking issues tend to diminish as the bladder training is mastered. Patients can structure riskier activities around this cluster program, i.e. plan their Zumba after cluster intake and output. The same goes for major outings where one will not be near a bathroom. Even my constipation patients have benefitted due to a more reliable intake of adequate fluid.
Nocturia is a bit of a different situation because of the role of kidney hormones, but I have found this approach to be quite effective for many patients whose lives and sleep are impacted by this problem. The Cluster Drinking Approach helps these patients to structure their fluid intake during daytime hours, and I teach them to heed the 1st overnight urge if it is within 2-3 hours after going to sleep. Then if they awaken again, I coach them to use the mantra “the bladder is a storage vessel”, analyze their last intake and output, and permit themselves to use the Urge Suppression Strategies, and go back to sleep without worrying that their bladder will explode. The other good news is after their bladders (and brains) are “retrained”, and you have done your PT magic, they can often return to more natural drinking patterns without negative consequences.
Fun Fact: Even Did you know that under anesthesia the amazing expandable bladder can hold over 1 liter?!
Kathy E. Golic, PT is a physical therapist at Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue, Washington.
There have been many constructive blogs about managing symptoms of overactive and misbehaving bladders, but I want to share an approach I have been using successfully for many years. Not only does this approach work for the majority of my patients in terms of addressing urgency, frequency, and urine leakage, but results are often quite rapid. After treating patients with modest success for many years with the traditional treatment approaches and noting that too often patients would plateau or results were just not effective or fast enough, I created my own approach to help these patients. I call it Cluster Drinking Approach and explain to my patients that cluster drinking begets cluster voiding.
When folks sip fluid, even water, all day long, it is hard for them to know when their bladder is full enough to warrant a trip to the bathroom. In patients with oversensitive or irritated bladders, the sensory receptors in the bladder wall are agitated and so often send false, unreliable signals,
when there is not much urine present. So they continue to struggle with urges and frequency and sometimes urine leakage. However, when they divide their fluid intake into 3-4, or sometimes even 5 or more, “clusters” then their bladders fill more predictably. They can sense it, and based on timing and amount of intake, they can reliably determine when the urges are accurate.
This requires a mindful and analytical approach to help retrain their bladders. The amount of intake and number of clusters are selected based on the level of bladder irritability, the patient’s schedule, as well as their weight, age, and level of anxiety. The variables can be modified according to their daily schedules, and their progress. Coupled with my mantra, “The bladder is a storage vessel, it is meant to hold urine!” this approach has been life-changing for many patients, and often in just a few visits!
Here is an example to illustrate what this might look like based on 60 fluid oz of daily intake. And important to share this pearl...In case you did not know...the adage of 8 glasses of 8 ounces of water was not based on research. So this will be quite individualized.
Cluster 1: 7:00 am-7:30am Consume 20 oz of fluid
Cluster 2: 11:30-12:00 Consume next 15 oz
Cluster 3: 4:30-5:00 Consume 15 more oz
Cluster 4: 7:00-7:30 Consume final 10 oz
Total Intake: 60 oz, plus sips for bedtime pills
Void: Reliable urge 60-90 mins later
Possibly a 2nd void within the next 60 mins
Void: 1-2 times in next 60-120 minutes
Void: next 60-120 minutes
Void :next 60-120 mins
Final void: Bedtime
Total voids: generally 5-8, depending on actual intake
Kathy E. Golic, PT is a physical therapist at Overlake Hospital Medical Center in North Bend, Washington.
This post is a follow-up to the February 20th post written by Nancy Cullinane, "Pelvic Floor One is Heading to Kenya"
By the time folks are reading this, Nancy Cullinane, PT, MHS, WCS, Terri Lannigan, PT, DPT, OCS, and I will likely be in a warm, crowded classroom in Nairobi, Kenya helping 30+ “physios” navigate the world of misbehaving bladders, detailed anatomy description, and their first internal lab experiences. No doubt it will be both challenging and extremely rewarding. We are so grateful to the Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehab Institute for sharing their curriculum in partnership with the Jackson Clinics Foundation to allow us to offer their valuable curriculum in order to affect positive health care changes.
I personally am humbled and honored to get to play a small but key role in the development of foundational knowledge and skills for these women PT’s who will no doubt change the lives of countless Kenyan women, and, consequently, their families.
My adventure truly began when I offered to write lectures on the topics of Fistula and FGM/C (female genital mutilation/cutting) and I began the process of crash course learning about these topics. The quest has taken me on a deep dive into professional journals, NGO websites, surgical procedure videos and insightful interviews with some of the pioneers working for years including “in the field” to help women in Africa and in countries where these issues are prevalent.
Before I began my research on the topic of fistula, I pretty much thought of a fistula as a hole between two structures in the body where it doesn’t belong, and narrowly thought of in terms of anal fistulas, acknowledging how lucky we are that there are skilled colorectal surgeons who can fix them. But after more research, my world view changed. (Operative word here being “world”).
A fistula is an abnormal or surgically made passage between a hollow or tubular organ and the body surface, or between two hollow or tubular organs. For our purposes here today, I am referring to an abnormal hole or passage between the vagina and the bladder, or rectum, or both. When the fistula forms, urine and/or stool passes through the vagina. The results are that the woman becomes incontinent and cannot control the leakage because the vagina is not designed to control these types of body fluids.
According to the Worldwide Fistula Fund, there are ~ 2 million women and girls suffering from fistulas. Estimates range from 30 to 100 thousand new cases developing each year; 3-5 cases/1000 pregnancies in low-income countries. A woman may suffer for 1-9 years before seeking treatment. For women who develop fistula in their first pregnancy, 70% end up with no living children.
Vesicovaginal fistulas (VVF) can involve the bladder, ureters, urethra, and a small or large portion of the vaginal wall. Women with VVF will complain of constant urine leakage throughout the day and night, and because the bladder never fills enough to trigger the urge to void, they may stop using the toilet altogether. During the exam there may be pooling of urine in the vagina.
Rectovaginal Fistula is less common, and accounts for ~ 10% of the cases. Women with RVF complain of fecal incontinence and may report presence of stool in the vagina. These women often will also have VVF.
In Kenya, most fistulas are obstetric fistulas, which occur as a result of prolonged obstetric labor (POL). These are also called gynecologic, genital, or pelvic fistulas. Traumatic fistulas account for 17-24 % of the cases and are caused by rape, sexual or other trauma, and sometimes even from FGM/C. The other type of fistula by cause is iatrogenic, meaning unintentionally caused by a health care provider during procedures such as during a C-section, hysterectomy, or other pelvic surgery. Most fistulas seen in the US are of this type.
Prolonged Obstructed Labor most often occurs when the infant’s head descends into the pelvis, but cannot pass though because of cephalo-pelvic disproportion (mismatch between fetus head and mother’s pelvis) thus creating sustained pressure on the tissues separating the tissues of the vagina and bladder or rectum, (or both) leading to a lack of blood flow and ultimately to necrosis of the tissue, and the development of the fistula. Those who develop this type of fistula spend an average of 3.8 days in labor (start of uterine contractions), some up to a week. In these cases, family members or traditional birth attendants may not recognize this is occurring, and even if they do, they may not have the instrumentation, the facilities or the skills necessary to handle the situation with an instrumental delivery or a C-section. And many of these women are in remote locations without transportation to appropriate facilities or lack the money to pay for procedures.
There are many adverse events and medical consequences that can result as a result of untreated obstetrical fistulas including the death of the baby in 90% of the cases. Physical effects besides the incontinence previously mentioned can include lower extremity nerve damage, which can be disabling for these women, along with a host of other physical and systemic health issues. The social isolation, ostracization by community, divorce, and loss of employment can lead to depression, premature lifespan, and sometimes suicide.
The good news is there are several great organizations making a difference.
In most cases, surgery is needed to repair the fistula. Sometimes, however, if the fistula is identified very early, it may be treated by placing a catheter into the bladder and allowing the tissues to heal and close on their own, and this is more viable in high-income countries after iatrogenic fistulas, but unfortunately, most women in the low-income countries have to wait for months or years before they receive any medical care.
There is an 80-90% cure rate depending on the severity, but according to the Worldwide Fistula Fund, 90% are left untreated, as the treatment capacity is only around 15,000 per year for the 100,00 new patients requiring it. Prevention is vital.
Despite successful repair of vesicovaginal fistulas, research shows that 15-35% of women report post-op incontinence at the time of discharge from the hospital, and that 45-100% of women may become incontinent in the years following their repair. Studies suggest that scar tissue-fibrosis of the abdominal wall and pelvis, and vaginal stenosis are strongly associated with post-operative incontinence.
According to research by Castille, Y-J et al in Int. J Gynecology Obstet 2014, there can be improved outcome of surgery both in terms of successful closure of vesicovaginal fistula and reduced risk of persistent urinary incontinence if women are taught a correct pelvic floor muscle contraction and advised to practice PFM exercise. Other studies have shown a positive effect from pre and post op PT in both post op urinary incontinence and PFM strength and endurance with a reduction of incontinence in more than 70% of treated patients, with improvements maintained at the 1year follow up. SO, THIS IS ONE REASON WE ARE SO EXCITED TO BE GOING TO KENYA!
I inquired about the use of dilators via email communication with surgeon Rachel Pope , MD MPH who has done extensive work in Malawi with women who have suffered from fistula, including the use of dilators, and her response was: “in women who have had obstetric fistula the dilators seem only marginally helpful after standard fistula repairs. The key is to have a good vaginal reconstructive surgery where skin flaps that still maintain their blood supply replace the area in the vagina previously covered by scar tissue. The dilators work exceedingly well when there is healthy tissue in place, and I think the overall outcomes are better for women in those scenarios compared to the cement-like scar we often see in women with fistulas.”
In the US, there are specialist surgeons who provide surgical repairs. While genitourinary fistulas can occur because of obstructed labor and operative deliveries in high income countries, they can also occur in a variety of pelvic surgeries, post pelvic radiation, as well as in cases of cancer, infections, with stones, and as well etiology includes instrumentations such as D&Cs, catheters, endoscopic trauma, and pessaries, and as well in cases of foreign bodies, accidental trauma, and for congenital reasons. As pelvic therapists it is important to know your patients’ surgical and medical history and to pay special attention to the patient’s history regarding their incontinence description and onset and be mindful during exam to notice possible pooling of urine in the vagina. Though rare in terms of occurrence, we should be aware of the possibility and may play a role in referring the patient to a physician who can do further diagnostic testing
In conclusion, I want to thank UK physiotherapist Gill Brook MCSP (DSA) CSP MSC, president of the IOPTWH who shared with me by interview her knowledge of fistula and experiences with the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, which she has been visiting for 10 years, as well as Seattle’s Dr. Julie LaCombe MD FACOG who has performed fistula surgeries in Uganda and Bangladesh and met with me personally to share about obstetrical trauma and fistula surgery and management.
Nancy, Terri and I will look forward to sharing photos and more about our journey and experiences, upon our return. In the meantime, check out the Campaign to End Fistula and join the campaign.