Pelvic Health Center

An overview of common conditions

The “pelvic floor” is the group of muscles, ligaments and tissues that support the organs of the pelvis.  Pelvic floor organs include the bladder, vagina, and rectum.  Pelvic floor disorders may be acquired due to tears, weakness, structural abnormalities, or poor coordination of the muscles, nerves, or organs in the pelvis.

Examples of pelvic floor disorders include:

Urinary incontinence

This is a loss of bladder control leading to urinary leakage. Urinary incontinence affects one in three women. Two common types of urinary incontinence are urge incontinence (urinary leakage with the sudden need to urinate) and stress incontinence (urinary leakage that occurs with physical effort, such as coughing, sneezing or exercising).

Pelvic organ prolapse

These pelvic support problems occur when one or more of the organs in a woman’s pelvis—the uterus, vagina, bladder or rectum—shifts down and creates a bulge in the vaginal canal, making everyday activities extremely uncomfortable. Women with pelvic organ prolapse may see or feel a bulge in the vagina.

Fecal incontinence

This is a loss of bowel control leading to leakage of stool. This problem can be caused by muscle damage during childbirth, constipation, anal injury, nerve injury or rectal prolapse.

Defecatory dysfunction

This condition refers to problems emptying the bowels. Symptoms may include the frequent and uncomfortable urge to have a bowel movement, constipation, and leakage of gas, diarrhea or solid stool.

Voiding dysfunction

This term refers to a variety of conditions that lead to the inability to empty the bladder normally. Examples include weakness of the bladder muscle and mechanical obstruction.

When to seek help

Life can be challenging for women who are coping with these issues—all symptoms of pelvic floor disorders. By age 55, nearly half of all women will have some type of pelvic floor condition—and many will suffer in silence with the uncomfortable, embarrassing and sometimes disabling symptoms.

Sometimes, the onset of symptoms is so gradual that women get used to these problems, or don’t really notice them until something major occurs. But one thing is certain—pelvic floor conditions do not get better over time. While these disorders are more common as women age, they are not normal. You should seek medical consultation if you experience any symptoms that affect your daily activities, such as heaviness or pressure in the area of the vagina or pelvis, a bulge of tissue coming through the vaginal opening, accidental loss of urine, frequent or unexpected urges to urinate, or difficulty urinating. Early diagnosis will help ensure that you receive the quickest and most effective treatment.

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