Ultrasound is a true breakthrough for urinary incontinence

Before the DFree wearable device, the usual approach to treating urinary incontinence involved using absorbent underwear or maybe a catheter. But most people with incontinence are still very capable of using the toilet on their own and would strongly prefer options that let them remain in control of their toileting.

DFree is a new incontinence treatment that is innovative in how it uses a simple wearable technology to help solve a chronic issue.

DFree is a small wearable device that uses ultrasound imaging technology to measure how full your bladder is. Once the bladder reaches a certain, pre-programmed threshold, the device sends an alert to your smartphone to tell you it’s time to use the toilet.

The device is made by Japanese technology company Triple W and has been attracting attention in both technology and medical fields. Triple W has grown quickly and is now actively rolling the product out across the United States, where tens of millions of Americans deal with the effects of incontinence every day.

“It’s all about dignity to the very end,” CEO Atsushi Nakanishi told a recent documentary about the development of Triple W and the DFree. “I hope our devices can give people control of fundamental tasks like using the toilet themselves all throughout their lives. That’s the kind of service I want to provide.”

Before the DFree, patients often had to guess when they might need to go to the bathroom. Even the most diligent bladder diary can’t always predict when your bladder is full.

Incontinence treatment breakthrough

The breakthrough is in the product’s packaging: ultrasound imaging is a proven technology long used in medicine. It’s non-surgical and non-invasive and considered safe. Most people are familiar with ultrasound imaging because they’re frequently used to monitor the development of pregnancies.

Nakanishi and his team recognized that the same technology can be used to constantly monitor the bladder. They went to work on miniaturizing an ultrasound device that was effective while also being small and discreet. At the same time, they developed an algorithm to predict urination timing and an easy-to-use smartphone app for use on Apple and Android devices that pairs with the device allowing you to monitor your bladder fullness at all times.

What is Ultrasound?

Ultrasound imaging technology has been around for decades and is now used in many medical applications. It produces sound waves much higher than are audible by humans. Those sound waves can be used to produce images of internal organs because the pulses echo off tissues in the body. The echoes can be translated into images.

Ultrasound scans are much quicker and easier to do than other medical scans like X Rays or MRIs. And, as the DFree shows, ultrasound devices can be small enough to wear without anyone knowing.

Many different kinds of images can be created using ultrasound. The DFree uses ultrasound to monitor the variance in bladder size as it accumulates urine (bladder expands as it accumulates urine.)  Then, DFree uses sophisticated algorithm to convert the data collected from the sensor into a numerical value between 0-10 to show how full your bladder is.

After wearing the DFree for a few days, you’ll see how full your bladder typically gets before you need to urinate. It might be 50 per cent, or 70 per cent. Everyone is different. Once you know your body’s rhythm, you can program the DFree to send an alert to you before your bladder gets too full.

The first version of the product has been enjoying great reviews and sales are growing as people hear about it. Meanwhile, as the documentary shows, the company is continuing to refine the product, making its even smaller and easier to use.

“Urinary disorders can be a significant barrier to patients reclaiming an independent home life,” said Dr. Kayo Ishikawa, Chair of the HITO Medical Centre, a rehabilitation medical facility in Japan that is testing the DFree. “Being able to use the bathroom makes a big difference to the quality of life, so we’ve introduced this device to help overcome such disorders.”

So far the device is proving to be an effective tool to help people with incontinence recapture a measure of control over their toileting.