Pelvic floor disorders: What you need to know

Last Modified: 9/24/2020

pelvic floor disorder

It can be an uncomfortable subject, but pelvic floor disorders are common and can be disruptive to your daily life. That’s why we asked Austin Hill, MD, PPG – Urogynecology, to help explain what these disorders are, the signs and symptoms to look for and where to turn for treatment.

What is the pelvic floor?

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles and connective tissue in the pelvis that act together to provide support to the pelvic organs. Both men and women have a pelvic floor. 

What are the pelvic organs? 

The pelvic organs are those found in the pelvis and include the bladder, rectum, large bowel, uterus, vagina and ovaries.

What are pelvic floor disorders?

A pelvic floor disorder can be any disorder that impacts the pelvic floor itself or the organs it supports. These include things like pelvic organ prolapse (things falling out of place), urinary incontinence (leaking urine), defecatory disorders (difficulty emptying bowels, leaking stool) and high tone pelvic floor (very tight painful muscle spasms).

What are the signs and symptoms of a pelvic floor disorder?

There are a variety of signs and symptoms that can be associated with pelvic floor disorders. Some might include:

  • Feeling a bulge, fullness, pressure or heaviness in the pelvis
  • Seeing bulging tissue
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom
  • Leaking urine before reaching the toilet
  • Strong urges to void
  • Leaking urine when coughing, sneezing, laughing or exercising
  • Difficulty emptying bowels
  • Accidental bowel leakage 
What causes pelvic floor disorders?

Age is a significant contributor, but menopause and the loss of estrogen, pregnancy, vaginal delivery, genetics, race, obesity, chronic constipation, smoking, diet, heavy lifting, chronic lung conditions, diabetes, Parkinson's and stroke can all play a role in pelvic floor disorders. 

Who can treat pelvic floor disorders?

Multiple specialties treat the pelvis, however, urogynecology is a specialty that focuses on the pelvic floor and the disorders associated with it. The urogynecology field requires an additional three years of training beyond residency with additional expertise in the areas of gynecology, urology, colon and rectal surgery, gastroenterology and physical therapy. Through these different services, a urogynecologist learns both surgical and non-surgical approaches to treat pelvic floor disorders. 

How are pelvic floor disorders diagnosed?

Pelvic floor disorders are diagnosed by first discussing them with your physician, then being referred to the right doctor or specialist who can help make a treatment plan. It’s not uncommon for patients to feel embarrassed by their condition or think there’s nothing to be done when that may not be the case at all. We encourage you to speak with your doctor. They can help you find a urogynecologist to assist in treating your pelvic floor disorder. 

Are pelvic floor disorders a normal part of aging?

Pelvic floor disorders are strongly associated with aging, however, there are a variety of causes that can contribute to the development of a pelvic floor disorder. In fact, 25% of women over the age of 20 have a pelvic floor disorder and that percentage only increases with each decade of life.

Can pelvic floor disorders be prevented?

There are risk factors that can be modified and those that can't. The things that can be modified include smoking, obesity, maintaining a healthy diet, active living, appropriate exercise and working on maintaining mental wellness. 

When should someone seek help for a pelvic floor disorder?

Pelvic floor disorders cause a significant impact on daily life. When someone notices or are bothered by any of the symptoms mentioned above, then it’s appropriate to take action.  

Final thoughts

Pelvic floor disorders are common and can significantly impact your daily life, but there are options and therapies available to help you get back to living your best life. We encourage you to reach out, have a discussion with your provider and start the journey for the solution that’s right for you.

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