Pelvic Floor Disorders: More Common Than You Think
Even the closest of friends might not feel comfortable discussing issues like bladder leakage. This may be one of the reasons why urinary incontinence and other pelvic floor disorders don’t get as much attention as they should.
But just because women aren’t talking about these things doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing them. About one in four women in the United States is affected by a pelvic floor disorder.
Understanding the causes and symptoms of pelvic floor disorders, along with treatment options, may help erase some of the embarrassment about these conditions.
What Are Pelvic Floor Disorders?
The pelvic floor is the group of muscles and ligaments found in the base of your pelvis. When these muscles and ligaments are weakened or torn, they no longer support the weight of the organs above, including the bladder, rectum, uterus and intestines.
The three main types of pelvic floor disorders are:
● Urinary incontinence, or lack of bladder control
● Fecal incontinence, or lack of bowel control
● Pelvic organ prolapse, or the dropping of the pelvic organs caused by loss of support in the vagina
Who Is at Risk for Pelvic Floor Disorders?
A common misconception is that only older women experience pelvic floor disorders. In fact, these conditions can start affecting women in their 30s and peak in their 50s. Risk factors for pelvic floor disorders include:
● Pregnancy and childbirth, both of which can cause the excessive strain on the pelvic floor
● Menopause, because hormonal changes can affect pelvic floor health
● Genetics, because some women may inherit genes that predispose them to pelvic floor problems
● Repetitive heavy lifting and strenuous activity
● Chronic constipation, because straining can damage the pelvic floor
● An illness like COPD that causes coughing, which can weaken pelvic muscles over time
How Do I Know If I Have a Pelvic Floor Disorder?
Symptoms will vary depending on what type of pelvic floor disorder you’re experiencing, but some common ones are:
● Urinary problems like leakage, an urgent need to urinate, pain during urination or an inability to fully empty the bladder
● Pain or pressure in the vagina and/or rectum
● A feeling of heaviness in the pelvic region
● Bulging or protrusion through the vagina
When To See a Doctor
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms or worried that your pelvic floor muscles aren’t as strong as they should be, talk to your primary care physician or OB-GYN.
Remember that even though they might be a bit embarrassing to bring up, pelvic floor problems are common and can often be improved — or even reversed — with the right treatment.
Treatment options vary according to the type of pelvic floor disorder you’re dealing with but may include lifestyle changes, exercises to strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor (like Kegels), medication, physical therapy or surgery.
If your primary care provider determines that you have a pelvic floor disorder, they can refer you to a urogynecologist, who will help you figure out which treatment is best for you.
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