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What Is Pelvic Floor Disorder?

Pelvic floor disorder (PFD) is a fairly common condition that affects both men and women of all ages. Unfortunately, it is vastly undertreated, leaving millions to struggle with life altering symptoms that can be addressed with appropriate medical treatment.

While no one looks forward to discussing problems such as: incontinence, sexual difficulties or pelvic organ prolapse, it’s important to note that these conditions can be successfully treated. It’s also important to note that pelvic floor disorders are not a normal part of the aging process.

When you are unable to control the muscles in your pelvic floor, this could effect your ability to have a bowel or bladder movement, it is called pelvic floor dysfunction. People with pelvic floor dysfunction contract these muscles rather than relax them. This interferes with the ability to have normal bowel or bladder control.

One in five people will suffer from a pelvic floor disorder during their lifetime. In fact, one-third of all women and 50 percent of women over the age of 55 are currently affected by a pelvic floor disorder. Researchers estimate almost 10 percent of these women will undergo surgery for urinary incontinence and conditions or pelvic organ prolapse during their lifetime. These conditions are not life threatening; however, if left untreated, they can negatively impact one’s lifestyle and potentially lead to additional pelvic floor disorders, and may cause severe depression.

What Is the Pelvic Floor?

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles and connective tissue in the pelvic area.

These muscles support the organs in your pelvis like a sling. The organs in this area include the bladder, vaginal cavity and uterus (women), prostate (men), and rectum (the area at the end of the large intestine where your body stores solid waste). Bowel movements and bladder emptying are controlled by contracting and relaxing these muscles.

What are Pelvic Floor Disorders?

Pelvic floor disorders occur when the supporting tissue within the pelvic floor is weakened or damaged. As a result of this weakness or damage, the muscles are not able to contract and relax normally which interferes with the body’s normal elimination process via the bowel or bladder.

The most common types of pelvic floor disorders include:

  • Pelvic Organ Prolapse
  • Pelvic Urinary Incontinence & Conditions
  • Pelvic Fecal Incontinence & Conditions
  • Pelvic Pain

Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Pelvic Floor Problems Pelvic prolapse is the third most common pelvic floor disorder. A prolapse occurs when the pelvic muscles and other supporting tissues becomes weak, which causes the organs within the pelvis to fall out of place.

There are several types of pelvic organ prolapse:

  • Cystocele occurs when the upper wall of the vagina loses support and the bladder drops out of position and into the vagina
  • Rectocele occurs when the lower wall of the vagina loses support and the rectum bulges upward into the vagina
  • Enterocele occurs when the small intestines bulge into the vagina
  • Uterine prolapse occurs when the uterus falls into the vagina

Because of a woman’s unique anatomical makeup, up to 40 percent of women will have some form of prolapse in their lifetime. Additionally, unlike other pelvic floor disorders, pelvic organ prolapse can be hereditary.

Urinary Incontinence & Conditions

Urinary incontinence, the most common pelvic floor disorder, is the involuntary release of urine due to a loss of bladder control. In the U.S., more than 25 million Americans suffer from urinary incontinence. Its severity varies from person to person. Some may "leak" a few drops of urine when they cough, laugh, sneeze or exercise. Others may feel strong, sudden urges to urinate that can’t be controlled. Others may lose some urine during sexual activity.

Fecal Incontinence & Conditions

Fecal incontinence is the inability to control bowel movements. Normal bowel continence requires that the anal sphincter muscles, pelvic floor, stool volume, stool consistency and nerve function work together in a complex manner. Fecal incontinence, also referred to as anal incontinence, can vary in severity, ranging from an occasional leakage of stool while passing gas (accidental bowel leakage) to a complete loss of bowel control.

What are the causes of PFD?

While pregnancy and childbirth are the main causes for women developing a pelvic floor disorder, men can also develop this condition. If the nerves or tissues within the pelvic floor are damaged as a result of surgery or radiation, it is more likely that someone will develop a pelvic floor disorder. Other causes include a history of lifting or moving heavy objects as well as heredity.

Causes of Urinary Conditions

Multiple urinary conditions such as incontinence affects both men and women, for a variety of reasons. Conditions such as diabetes or a nerve disorder, childbirth or prostate surgery can be a catalyst for urinary incontinence. Different types of incontinence occur for different reasons, and in some cases the reasons are gender specific.

Causes of Fecal Incontinence

There are several causes for fecal conditions such as fecal incontinence including: nerve damage, bowel inflammatory conditions, impacted stool, physical damage, cognitive impairment and prolapsing hemorrhoids, just to name a few. For women, the main driver for developing fecal conditions is pregnancy due to the pressure on the rectum while pregnant or as a result of the labor and delivery.

Symptoms of Pelvic Floor Disorders

People suffering from a pelvic floor disorder may experience the following symptoms:

  • Urinary or bladder control issues: feeling the need or urge to urinate, painful urination or an inability to fully empty the bladder during urination
  • Constipation, straining or pain during bowel movements
  • Pain or pressure in the vagina or rectum
  • A heavy or bulging feeling in the vagina or rectum
  • Muscle spasms in the pelvic area
  • Pelvic pain
  • Bladder pain

Is Pelvic Floor Disorder a Normal Part of Aging?

While Pelvic Floor Disorders become more common with age, they should not be considered a “normal” part of aging. It’s important to note that 1 in 5 people will suffer from a pelvic floor disorder during their lifetime, however, they are underreported and most go untreated. While no one looks forward to discussing the potentially embarrassing symptoms associated with PFDs: urinary and fecal incontinence, sexual difficulties or pelvic organ prolapse – these disorders can be successfully treated. If left untreated, pelvic floor disorders can negatively impact one’s lifestyle and even cause depression.

Do Pelvic Floor Disorders Only Affect Women?

Pelvic Floor Disorder can affect both men and women. Due to a woman’s unique anatomical structure and the fact that women’s pelvic floor may be weaker, women may be more inclined to develop a pelvic floor disorder in their lifetime. In fact, 25 percent of all women will develop a pelvic floor disorder, according to a National Institutes of Health study.

PFD Symptoms in Women

The following are the most common symptoms of PFD for women:

Pelvic floor problems
  • Urinary or bladder control issues: feeling the need or urge to urinate, painful urination or an inability to fully empty the bladder during urination
  • Constipation, straining or pain during bowel movements
  • Pain or pressure in the vagina or rectum
  • A heavy or bulging feeling in the vagina or rectum
  • Muscle spasms in the pelvic area
  • Pelvic pain
  • Bladder pain

These are the common PFD symptoms that occur only in women:

  • Unexplained pain in the lower back, pelvis, genitals or rectum
  • A frequent need to urinate
  • Painful intercourse

PFD Symptoms and Conditions in Men

The following are the most common symptoms of PFD for men:

  • Urinary or bladder control issues: feeling the need or urge to urinate, painful urination or an inability to fully empty the bladder during urination
  • Constipation, straining or pain during bowel movements
  • Pain or pressure in the rectum
  • A heavy or bulging feeling in the rectum
  • Muscle spasms in the pelvic area
  • Pelvic pain
  • Bladder pain

These are the common PFD symptoms that occur only in men:

  • The feeling that you need to have several bowel movements during a short period of time
  • The feeling of not being able to complete a bowel movement
  • Constipation or straining pain with bowel movements
  • A frequent need to urinate. When you do go, you may stop and start many times
  • Painful urination
  • Pain in your lower back that cannot be explained by other causes
  • Ongoing pain in your pelvic region, genitals, or rectum

Treatments for Pelvic Floor Disorders

There are several available treatments for pelvic floor disorders, including non-surgical options as well as surgery. Here are the most common treatments:

  • Physical Therapy
  • Kegel exercises
  • Biofeedback
  • Medications
  • Behavioral techniques

The only way to ensure if you have a pelvic floor disorder and determine the best treatment options, please call our nurse navigator at 713-704-4PFD(4733).