According to the National Institutes of Health, roughly a quarter of U.S. women are affected by a pelvic floor disorder. Pelvic floor disorders are a result of weakened or injured muscles and connective tissue in the pelvic cavity that may cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms making physical activity difficult and sexual intercourse painful.
What is the pelvic floor? What does it do?
The pelvic floor—which men and women both have—is a hammock-shaped group of muscles, connective tissues, and nerves that support the organs and help them function. Both men and women have a:
Men also possess a prostate, whereas women possess a uterus and a vagina. These organs are also a part of the pelvic floor, which extends between the tailbone, pubic bone and hip bone.
What is a pelvic floor disorder?
A pelvic floor disorder refers to a dysfunction of any part of the pelvic floor, resulting in conditions such as:
- Constipation, difficulties with emptying the bowels
- Fecal incontinence, an inability to control bowel movements
- Pain during intercourse or vaginal penetration
- Pelvic organ prolapse, a weakness in the muscles that causes the organs to shift into the vaginal canal space
- Urinary incontinence, a loss of control in managing the flow of urine
These conditions occur when the muscles become weakened or the connective tissue tears, typically due to trauma to the pelvic area, childbirth or natural deterioration with age. Genetics, excess weight (which places extra pressure on the pelvic floor) and lifestyle are also thought to play a role, as well as a variety of health issues such as:
- Diabetes, which may impact how well the pelvic floor muscles function
- Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disease of the nervous system that affects nerves and muscle movement
- Stroke, which can damage the part of the brain that controls bladder/bowel movement or include a medication regimen that causes incontinence as a side effect
- Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal—typically in the neck or low back—that places pressure on the spinal cord or related nerves, potentially resulting in loss of bladder or bowel control
Symptoms can vary depending on which part of the pelvic floor is affected, but can include:
- A feeling of needing to constantly have a bowel movement or a feeling of not completely emptying after a bowel movement
- Any consistent pain in the pelvis, rectum or genital area, especially during intercourse
- Painful or frequent urination
- Pressure sensation in the vagina, such as the feeling that you are sitting on something or is protruding from the vagina
- Straining or having to shift position in order to complete a bowel movement or while trying to empty the bladder
Although pelvic floor disorders may sound scary, they’re a fairly common issue, especially in women. In fact, according to one study, one-quarter of adult women in the U.S. report having at least one of these disorders.
What kind of doctor should I see for a pelvic floor disorder?
You can certainly speak to your OB/GYN or primary care provider (PCP) about the issues you are experiencing, but your best bet is to be seen by a urogynecologist or a urologist who specializes in pelvic floor disorders.
What is a urogynecologist?
A urogynecologist is a urologist or OB/GYN who opts to undergo highly-specific subspecialty training for conditions that impact the pelvic floor. This includes completing a fellowship—additional training after completing a residency program—that focuses on surgical and nonsurgical care of non-cancerous gynecologic issues.
When should I seek medical help for my pelvic floor disorder symptoms?
We understand that these issues can be uncomfortable to talk about, but they are common problems that can be medically managed with the right care. There is no reason to compromise your quality of life when there are plenty of treatment options available. Reach out to your PCP or OB/GYN for a urogynecologist recommendation.
At New Jersey Urology, we’re proud to have urogynecologists on staff to help patients living with these issues. Together, they offer years of combined experience in providing patients relief from pelvic floor disorders utilizing the latest techniques the industry has to offer, both surgical and nonsurgical, in a comfortable environment. This can include everything from specialized exercises (pelvic floor therapy) to a minimally invasive surgical repair of the pelvic floor.