Locations:
Search IconSearch

This Tampon-Like Device Stops Your Urinary Incontinence

Exploring an available OTC option

bladder support

Stress urinary incontinence affects millions of women, fueling anxiety in all kinds of day-to-day situations — even a sneeze, a laugh or a workout at the gym can prompt unexpected leakage. However, over-the-counter bladder supports now available are helping many women take control of this embarrassing problem.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

How do bladder supports work?

The short answer is that they work sort of like tampons, but with some important differences. They come with a tampon-style applicator. But, rather than a wad of absorbent fibers, they are collapsible silicone structures with a non-absorbent polypropylene covering.

Beneath the cover, they look a little like an oversized jack (the classic children’s toy — jacks and ball — not the tool for changing a tire).

Once inserted into the vagina, the support expands to lift and support the urethra (the small tube that conveys urine out of the bladder), helping to stop leaks from stresses such as coughing, sneezing or exercising.

“Stress urinary incontinence is the result of poor tissue support around the urethra,” says Ob/Gyn Cecile Ferrando, MD.

Bladder supports function by providing support to the bladder neck of the urethra or the urethra itself. So when a woman increases the amount of pressure exerted on her bladder during things like exercise, that pressure doesn’t cause the bladder to empty, because the support is there to keep the urethra closed.

Also, while wearing these supports, you still can urinate or have a bowel movement. The supports provide added support to help prevent accidental leaks — but they won’t stop you from urinating and it should not move or fall out during bowel movements.

A good alternative to surgery

Bladder supports are often a good alternative to surgery. They’re relatively comfortable and non-invasive, and you can wear them only when you need them.

“A number of more active patients may use bladder supports because they just need something that will help when they’re being more physically active,” says urologist Sandip Vasavada, MD.

Dr. Ferrando says they’re also a good option for women who simply want to avoid the possible risks or complications of surgery. “So they’re not looking for surgery, they just want to manage it when they’re active,” she says.

Follow directions to manage safety concerns

Like any item worn in the vagina, bladder supports come with a small but important risk of toxic shock syndrome (a rare condition caused by certain strains of bacteria that produce toxins).

They can typically be worn safely for up to eight hours within a 24-hour period.

“As with any other tampon or device you’d insert into the vagina, you’d want to make sure that it’s removed as directed,” says Dr. Vasavada.

Using supports with other types of treatment

Although bladder supports work well on their own, they can also be a part of a more comprehensive treatment plan.

“They can certainly be used with pelvic floor physical therapy to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and supports around the urethra,” says Dr. Ferrando. The supports must be removed during the therapy, but the two can work together, she says.

Dr. Vasavada says making lifestyle changes (such as reducing your caffeine intake) and taking medication for overactive bladder are also helpful in some cases.

A good option for many women

Experts agree that bladder supports are worth a try for nearly any woman struggling with stress urinary incontinence.

However, although the supports offer advantages, they’re not perfect. In a few cases, they are not a good option, including for women who:

  • Aren’t able to insert and remove things vaginally, or don’t feel comfortable doing so.
  • Are pregnant.
  • Have symptoms of a urinary tract infection or vaginal infection.
  • Have heavy incontinence.

Advertisement

Women need to have realistic expectations, Dr. Ferrando says. “There are some patients whose stress incontinence is so bad that the bladder supports are minimally successful,” she says.

Dr. Vasavada says there also is a cost factor. “These supports must be changed regularly,” he says. “Some of my patients find that using the supports every day becomes very costly.”

Talk to your doctor if you have questions

If you’re not sure what type of incontinence you have, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor.

“If they don’t have the type of leakage that would be helped by bladder supports — if they have urge leakage or overflow — those patients won’t benefit,” says Dr. Vasavada. “It might even make their symptoms worse.”

If you’re pretty sure you have urinary stress incontinence, however, it’s OK to try bladder supports.

“If women are experiencing leakage with laughing, coughing, running, sneezing or lifting, and it seems like it’s pretty clear-cut, then trying an over-the-counter bladder support is completely appropriate,” Dr. Ferrando says. “They don’t necessarily need to see their doctor first.”

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

female shopping for adult diapers
February 19, 2024/Urinary & Kidney Health
What To Know About Underwear for Incontinence

Before you run out and buy this specialty underwear, there are treatment options to try first, like pelvic floor therapy and medication

Man in a doctor's office.
December 19, 2022/Men's Health
Men Ask: “Why Am I Peeing So Much?”

An enlarged prostate, diuretics and bladder irritants can all contribute

Gloved hand of nurse preparing botox injection on a white background.
November 30, 2022/Urinary & Kidney Health
Should You Consider Botox Injections for Your Bladder?

It’s an FDA-approved treatment for urinary incontinence and overactive bladder

Person elevating legs.
November 6, 2022/Urinary & Kidney Health
How To Stop Frequent Urination at Night

Try elevating your legs during the day and stop drinking two hours before bed

Person with hourglass figure.
September 1, 2022/Wellness
Hourglass Syndrome: Why You Should Stop Sucking In Your Stomach

‘Stomach gripping’ can lead to muscle weakness, back pain and breathing problems

restroom icons with incontinance issues
January 12, 2020/Urinary & Kidney Health
Are Your Medications Causing Your Incontinence, or Making It Worse?

Know which drugs can affect bladder control

Healthcare provider holding packet of birth control pills
May 3, 2024/Women's Health
What Happens When You Skip a Birth Control Pill?

The scenarios vary based on how many pills you’ve missed and whether you take a combination pill or progestin-only pill

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad