Pelvic Floor Disorders: What You Need to Know
This article was medically fact-checked by Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr. Shree Datta.
Pelvic floor disorders can occur when the pelvic floor is weakened by carrying excess weight from pregnancy or obesity, damaged during childbirth, or affected by medical conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, or stroke. Also as we age and go through menopause the hormonal changes result in loss of muscle tone which also affects the pelvic floor strength.
The three most common pelvic floor disorders are:
- Urinary incontinence – Urinary incontinence doesn’t just include bladder leaks (involuntary leakage of urine), but also excessive urinary frequency, getting up in the night to go, and frequent urgency.
- Fecal incontinence – also known as bowel control problems, is the accidental passing of solid or liquid stool from the rectum.
- Pelvic Organ Prolapse – is when one or more of the pelvic organs (e.g. vagina, bladder, rectum, or uterus) bulge into or even outside the vaginal canal or anus.
How Do I Know If I Have A Weak Pelvic Floor?
There are a number of signs of a weak pelvic floor. These include:
- Leaks when you cough, laugh or sneeze
- Not being able to always reach the bathroom on time
- Feeling pressure or a bulge in your pelvis
- Reduction in sexual satisfaction or even absence of orgasm.
Who Can I Talk To About Pelvic Floor Disorders?
If you are worried that you are suffering from any symptoms of a weak pelvic floor or a pelvic floor disorder, we urge you to talk to your doctor. Many people don’t feel comfortable talking about pelvic floor disorders; in the case of urinary incontinence, the average woman waits up to 8 years before she tells anyone about her leaking.
But pelvic floor disorders are very common and not something to be embarrassed about. Your health care professional will see many patients suffering from the same issue on a daily basis. And most importantly these disorders can be successfully treated, particularly with early intervention.
What Treatment Options Are Available For Pelvic Floor Disorders?
If you have been diagnosed with a pelvic floor disorder, your doctor may offer a variety of different treatments.
Many providers will recommend managing your weight through healthy lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. Extra weight can put pressure on the pelvic floor, potentially causing damage over time.
One treatment is bladder retraining to allow for better control over your urinary habits. If constipation is an issue for you, treating it with supplements or by managing diet and medications helps to relieve unnecessary strain on the pelvic floor from pushing. The same goes for smoking. As this habit can cause a chronic cough that puts excessive strain on your pelvic floor.
Some people experiencing urinary incontinence, may be advised to keep a diary of fluid intake and outflow, urine infection screening, as well as undergoing urodynamic testing to gauge the urethra’s hold and release abilities. In some cases, your provider may perform a cystoscopy by inserting a small camera into the bladder through the urethra to check for any abnormalities.
For others, especially in the case of pelvic organ prolapse, surgery may be necessary. But for urinary and fecal incontinence, treatment may include medications or simple exercises for the pelvic floor commonly called Kegel exercises.
These are simple contract and release exercises that strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. For most pelvic floor disorders, if caught early, Kegel exercises can completely resolve or at least greatly improve the symptoms.
Your doctor can help you to locate the correct muscles to exercise. Exercise aids such as weighted Kegel exercisers add resistance to your exercise, allowing you to strengthen your pelvic muscles more effectively.
In the following video, Intimina Medical Advisory Board Member Dr. Laurie Bailey Birkholz discusses how you can tell if you have a weakened pelvic floor and ways you can both prevent and treat pelvic floor disorders. While Kegel exercises won’t always improve symptoms, they can keep them from getting worse.
Preventative care is crucial!
Facts checked by:
Dr. Shree Datta
Dr. Shree Datta is a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in London, specialising in women’s health including all menstrual problems such as fibroids and endometriosis. Dr. Shree is a keen advocate for patient choice, having written numerous articles and books to promote patient and clinician information. Her vision resonates with INTIMINA, with the common goals of demystifying periods and delivering the best possible care to her patients
A collective group of “lady experts” at Intimina who love sharing our personal experiences, even when they are a little too personal. We believe it’s time to start breaking down the taboos around menstruation, motherhood, and menopause, and start owning our female health.