When it comes to pelvic floor dysfunction, the symptoms can range from slightly embarrassing to downright debilitating. For example, some women may feel like their lives revolve around their lady’s room schedule.
They find themselves searching for a public restroom even though they went to the bathroom 20 minutes ago. Or when sensing a sneeze coming on, some must brace themselves to avoid an embarrassing moment. Some of these women may also experience severe pelvic pain, backaches, bowel problems or pain during intercourse.
According to a National Institutes of Health study, almost 25 percent of women are faced with pelvic floor dysfunction. That number jumps to 37 percent of women 60 to 79 years old, and nearly half of women 80 or older. While pelvic floor dysfunction becomes more common as women age, pelvic issues need not be categorized as acceptable and untreatable discomforts you must simply “learn to live with.” But with the right information and a proper treatment plan, you may no longer have to suffer in silence.
Let’s start by learning more about pelvic floor health and pelvic floor dysfunction.
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a combination of muscles, ligaments and tissues that act like a hammock to support organs, such as the bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum in the lowest part of the pelvis. In essence, the pelvic floor prevents these organs from falling down or out of the body and helps make sure that they are functioning properly.
What is pelvic floor dysfunction?
Pelvic floor dysfunction refers to a wide range of disorders that occur when muscles of the pelvic floor are weak, tight or torn. If the muscles become weak or the ligaments or tissues are stretched or damaged, the pelvic organs or small intestine may drop down and protrude into the vagina. If the disorder is severe, the organs may protrude all the way through the opening of the vagina and outside the body.
What causes pelvic floor dysfunction?
In general, pelvic floor dysfunction is due to weakened pelvic muscles or tears in the connective tissue. A damaged pelvic floor cannot continue to provide the support that your organs need to work effectively. As this structure weakens, normal functioning of the bowel, bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum can be affected.
Most of the causes of pelvic floor dysfunction are unknown. Traumatic injuries to the pelvic area, strenuous exercise and complications from vaginal childbirth can all contribute to this condition.
What are the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction?
Women with pelvic floor disorders may experience:
- Chronic pelvic pain that radiates to the groin, abdomen and back
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Strong or frequent urge to urinate
- Burning during urination
- Urinary incontinence
- Vaginal burning
- Painful menstrual periods
- Difficulty with defecation and constipation
Types of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
The three main areas of pelvic floor dysfunction are:
- Urinary incontinence
- Fecal incontinence
- Pelvic organ prolapse
Urinary incontinence is loss of bladder control and is the most common pelvic floor disorder. Symptoms can range from mild leaking to uncontrollable wetting. It can happen to anyone, but it becomes more common with age. Women experience urinary incontinence twice as often as men.
It can be caused by a number of conditions, including a weakening of the muscles that control the bladder valve. A major symptom is the frequent urge to urinate; other symptoms include pressure on the bladder and a feeling that the bladder has not completely emptied. There are several different types of urinary incontinence and the severity can vary from person to person.
Fecal incontinence is the inability to control bowel movements, causing stool to leak unexpectedly from the rectum. Also called bowel incontinence, fecal incontinence ranges from an occasional leakage of stool while passing gas to a complete loss of bowel control. Common causes of fecal incontinence include diarrhea, constipation and muscle or nerve damage. The muscle or nerve damage may be associated with aging or with giving birth.
Pelvic Organ Prolapse
Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when a pelvic organ, such as your bladder drops (or prolapses) from its normal place in your lower belly and pushes against the walls of your vagina. While these conditions are usually not associated with serious health risks, they can cause major discomfort with symptoms that include a heavy feeling or like something is “falling out” of the vagina, a pulling or pressure in the lower abdomen or pelvis, pain during intercourse and frequent urinary infections due to a reduced ability to release urine from the urethra. This can happen when the muscles that hold your pelvic organs in place get weak or stretched from childbirth or surgery.
How is pelvic floor dysfunction treated?
With an expert treatment team, Pelvic floor dysfunction can often be successfully treated without surgery with physical therapy and a combination of other treatment options. Treatments for pelvic floor dysfunction can include:
- Strengthening exercises: Strengthening exercises, also known as Kegels, involves squeezing and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. If performed correctly and routinely, these exercises may improve the symptoms of prolapse.
- Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a non-surgical technique that uses special sensors and video to monitor the pelvic floor muscles as the patient attempts to relax or contract them.
- Relaxation techniques: Your physician or physical therapist may recommend relaxation techniques such as warm baths, yoga and exercises.
- Medicine: Medicine is sometimes prescribed to treat certain bladder control problems, to prevent loose stools or frequent bowel movements.
- Surgery: Sometimes, surgery may be necessary.
When should I seek help?
Many women may not feel comfortable discussing their symptoms with their doctors, but these disorders are actually very common medical conditions that can be treated successfully.
If you have a pelvic health issue, don’t hesitate to learn more about your treatment options. Florida Hospital’s Pelvic Floor Program provides urogynecology, colorectal and pelvic rehabilitation services specifically designed to help patients of all ages improve their health and restore quality of life with dignity and a personalized approach to achieving whole health — in body, mind and spirit.
If you would like to make an appointment, call us today at (407) 720-5191.