Background. Research using biofeedback as a treatment for sphincteric incontinence began with Kegel's early studies using a perineometer and pelvic muscle exercises demonstrating a 90% improvement in urine loss symptoms. More recent studies using varying combinations of biofeedback and pelvic muscle exercises found symptom reduction rates of 78% to 90%, but these studies lacked the rigor of a 'phase three,' or randomized controlled clinical trial. Methods. A randomized controlled trial assessed the efficacy of biofeedback for older women for treatment of sphincteric incompetence. One hundred thirty-five community-dwelling women were randomized in a single-blind trial to three groups; biofeedback, pelvic muscle exercise, or control. Incontinent episodes were monitored over 8 weeks of treatment and at 3 and 6 months thereafter. Results. The number of incontinent episodes decreased significantly in the biofeedback and pelvic muscle exercise subjects but not in the control subjects for all severity of incontinence frequency subgroups. Improvement was maintained within the moderate and severe symptom subgroups for both treatments for at least 6 months but declined in subjects with mild incontinence frequency. Pelvic muscle activity (EMG) was significantly correlated with decreases in incontinent episodes, and only the biofeedback subjects showed significant improvement in EMGs. Conclusions. Biofeedback and pelvic muscle exercises are efficacious for sphincteric incompetence in older women. Benefits are maintained and improvement continues for at least 6 months postintervention. These therapies may be useful before considering invasive treatment.
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