Savvy womens Magazine

Women’s Health Matters Q&A
Tattoo Removal & Leaky Bladder


By Joan Liebmann-Smith, Ph.D. and Jacqueline Nardi Egan

Q: I have a heart tattoo on my left breast. It has my ex-husband’s name inside. I’m getting remarried and want to get rid of it. Are there any down sides to tattoo removal?

A: Many women (and men) find that when their social circumstances change, they want to get rid of their tattoos. In your case, there may be another good reason to have it removed. Tattoo dye has been reported to occasionally cause burning or swelling of the tissue during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a common diagnostic technique. The dye can also adversely affect the quality of the image. Because your tattoo is on your breast, it may make a breast MRI, should you need one, painful and difficult to interpret.

Getting rid of a tattoo is easier said than done; it’s a medical procedure that should be done by a board-certified dermatologist with extensive experience in tattoo removal. Successful removal depends not only on the medical qualifications and skill of the doctor, it depends on the technique used, how deep the tattoo is, what type and color dye was used, and even the color of your skin.

(Interestingly, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, removal is usually more effective on fair-skinned people who have a black ink tattoo!)

The most common and least painful technique is laser removal. However, the surrounding skin may permanently lighten or, less commonly, darken. Some people also have allergic reactions because the tattoo ink can seep into the body during treatment. Dermabrasion is another common technique but is more painful and often leaves a scar. Scarification is sometimes done. This method substitutes a tattoo with a scar. Some people choose to camouflage their tattoo with another tattoo. Surgery is sometimes necessary for large tattoos.

Regardless of the technique used, getting rid of a tattoo usually takes repeated treatments over several weeks or even months. There is also the risk of infection and permanent scarring, and complete removal is virtually impossible without some scarring. The process can also be quite expensive, and insurance is unlikely to pay for it. That said, if you’re really unhappy with your tattoo, the side effects and cost of tattoo removal may be less than the social costs of keeping it.

Q: When I work out at the gym, I sometimes leak urine. It’s really embarrassing. What could be wrong?

A: Your disturbing problem is often experienced by female athletes and others who engage in high-impact sports. Referred to as stress incontinence, it’s the sudden, involuntary leakage of urine upon effort or exertion. Sneezing or coughing, and even laughing, can also bring on a dribble of urine. And it’s not just women who exercise who have the problem of a leaky bladder. Up to 35% of all women may experience untimely tinkling at some point in their lives.

Stress incontinence occurs when the pelvic floor muscles, (which hold up the bladder), the urinary sphincter, (which controls urine out of the bladder), or both don’t work properly. When performing certain exercises or movements, stress or more accurately, “pressure,” is placed on the bladder. The embarrassing result: urine leakage. This type of incontinence shouldn’t be confused with urge incontinence, which is the overwhelming impulse to urinate.

A lot of things can cause or make stress (and other types of) incontinence worse. These include a bladder infection, pregnancy and childbirth, caffeine, smoking, neuromuscular disorders, and obesity. So can poor exercise techniques. You may want to add the Kegel exercises to your gym routine. They can help bladder control by strengthening pelvic floor muscles and urethral sphincter function. You can do these exercises almost anywhere – at home, in the car, or talking on the phone. An added benefit of Kegel exercises − they’re said to improve sex!

One last word of advice: Be sure to talk to a healthcare provider if stress incontinence or leaky bladder is excessive, interferes with your daily activities, social life, and self-esteem. It may be pointing to other urinary or kidney problems.

Women's Health Matters' Columnists
Joan Liebmann-Smith, Ph.D., is a medical sociologist and award-winning medical writer. Her articles have appeared in American Health, Ms., Newsweek, Redbook, Self, and Vogue; and she has appeared on numerous television talk shows, including The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Today Show. Joan has written four other books, two with co-author Jacqueline: The Unofficial Guide to Overcoming Infertility and The Unofficial Guide to Getting Pregnant. She is a consultant at the Strang Cancer Prevention Center, on the board of the National Council on Women's Health, and lives in New York City with her husband, also a writer.

Jacqueline Nardi Egan is a medical journalist who specializes in developing and writing educational programs with and for physicians, allied health professionals, patients, and consumers. A former editor of Family Health magazine, she is currently Associate Editorial Director of Continuing Education Alliance. Jacqueline has been featured on several radio talk shows and appeared on The Early Show and Weekend Today in New York. She divides her time between Darien, Connecticut and Sag Harbor, New York.

Dr. Liebmann-Smith and Ms. Egan are co-authors of a new book, Body Signs: From Warning Signs to False Alarms...How to Be Your Own Diagnostic Detective, published by Bantam Books in January, 2008. Body Signs helps readers detect their own body signs and determine when a visit to the doctor may be needed.

If you have any questions or topics related to prevention or early detection that may be of interest to other women, please send them to us. Simply click here to contact us. Because we're not medical doctors, we won't be dealing with diagnostic methods or treatments. These should be directed to your physician. Unfortunately we can't acknowledge or respond to all questions. The senders of the questions that we do use in our column will not be identified in any way.