Love, Laugh…Leak? October is Pelvic Organ Prolapse Awareness Month

Millions of women suffer with urinary and fecal incontinence, as well as pelvic organ prolapse. Women often endure their problem in silence, allowing the issue to compromise their quality of life. It is estimated that less than 30 percent of women actually seek treatment, because they feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.

A woman’s pelvic floor is made up of a support system that includes muscles, ligaments, connective tissue and nerves. This system is bowl-shaped and functions to support the bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum while allowing these organs to properly function.

According to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nearly 25 percent of all women face pelvic floor disorders (PFD). PFDs affect women of all ages. The same NIH study found that PFDs affect:

  • 10 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 39
  • 27 percent of women between the ages of 40 and 59
  • 37 percent of women between the ages of 60 and 79
  • Nearly 50 percent of women age 80 and older

When any component of the pelvic floor support system is weakened, pelvic floor disorders occur. Common life occurrences such as childbearing, heavy lifting and common health conditions, such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes can weaken the pelvic floor support system and result in any of three types of disorders: Urinary incontinence (lack of bladder control), fecal incontinence (lack of bowel control) and pelvic organ prolapse, a condition in which the uterus, bladder or bowel may “drop” into the vagina and cause pain, pelvic pressure or bulging or even result in these organs protruding outside of the body.

Symptoms of PFDs include an urgent need to urinate; leaking of urine with laughing, coughing or sneezing; sensations of incomplete bladder emptying; painful urination; constipation or straining during bowel movements; pressure or pain in the vagina and rectum; or a heavy feeling in the pelvis.

Though the incidence of PFD increases with age, it is neither a normal nor an acceptable part of aging. Although these issues significantly affect the quality of life in women, many treatment options are available to restore proper function and allow women to return to a healthy, productive lifestyle.

Options of intervention include mechanical support of dropped organs with devices called pessaries. Pessaries are made of silicone and can be inserted into the vagina to provide support to the bladder and rectum. Physical therapy with a certified pelvic floor physical therapist can isolate weakened pelvic floor muscles and strengthen them so that episodes of urinary and fecal incontinence are lessened.

Surgical options also exist that allow for reconstruction of pelvic organ prolapse and support of the urethra to correct certain types of urinary incontinence. These procedures are typically performed by a specialized surgeon certified in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery (urogynecologist), but may also include specialists in urology, colorectal surgery or plastic surgery.

If you have a pelvic health issue, do not hesitate to learn more about your treatment options. The American Urogynecology Association, www.augs.org , is an excellent source of information and also provides women with a searchable list of board-certified, female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery physicians by geographic location.

 

Dr. Harris-Hicks focuses on providing care and treatments for urinary and fecal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, overactive bladder, painful bladder syndrome and chronic pelvic pain. She is also part of the Clinical Trials team at FirstHealth of the Carolinas. Board certified in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery and OB/GYN at FirstHealth Urogynecology in Hamlet, and she can be reached at 910-205-8909 or by visiting www.firsthealth.org