Let’s take the taboo out of pelvic floor disorders

Author: Sujatha Pathi, MD, Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery/Urogynecology

As women live longer and lead more active lives, they may experience changes to their bodies that they never expected. These changes may result in symptoms that can be embarrassing and/or debilitating. Symptoms such as involuntary leakage of urine, needing to urinate frequently, having a feeling that your “insides are falling out,” and the inability to control bowel movements – all symptoms of pelvic floor disorders.

Pelvic floor disorders are conditions which affect the pelvic floor, such as pelvic organ prolapse, bladder control problems, and bowel control problems. Pelvic floor disorders are quite common. One in three women will experience a pelvic floor disorder (PFD) in her lifetime. 

Unfortunately, women often are embarrassed about problems “down there” and don’t bring up their symptom with their physicians. Many people falsely think that PFDs are normal aspects of aging.

Even though pelvic floor disorders are common, they are not a normal part of aging. Genetics, age, pregnancy, childbirth, among other risk factors, have played a part in altering the pelvic floor as we age. Lifestyle issues such as smoking, excess alcohol, and caffeine intake, or chronic issues such as constipation or coughing are also contributing factors.

The good news is that today’s women have several treatment options to help them manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Often simple lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, strengthening both core and pelvic muscles through exercise, and dietary changes will make a difference.

Surgery and medications can be excellent treatment options, depending on the women’s treatment goals and the severity of her symptoms.

We have made great strides in women’s health. The specialty of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery (aka urogynecology) has been developed to specialize in the treatment of pelvic floor disorders in women.

Here in Marin County, we enjoy a healthy lifestyle and pride ourselves in being educated health care consumers. Women should feel empowered by understanding what is happening to their bodies and know what options are available if they should seek treatment. Pelvic floor disorders are typically not life-threatening, but they can affect a woman’s quality of life. That’s something worth talking about.