Understanding Pelvic Floor Disorders

One in three women in the U.S. suffers from pelvic floor disorders (PFDs). These disorders impact women of all ages and may be caused by various factors.

The pelvic floor, which consists of a hammock-shaped group of muscles, connective tissues and nerves that support organs and help their function, can become weak or injured, causing a variety of disorders. While both men and women have pelvic floors, women are more prone to muscle weakening or connective tissue tears due to trauma to the pelvic area, childbirth or deterioration with age. Obesity, genetics and lifestyle also can increase the risk of developing PFD. While these disorders can seem scary, they’re not life-threatening, and they’re highly treatable. In fact, approximately one in three women will experience a pelvic floor disorder during her lifetime.

Symptoms of PFD include involuntary loss of urine, involuntary loss of stool, “dropped” bladder, uterus or rectum, a feeling of pressure in the vagina, constipation or the need to strain to have a bowel movement and muscle spasms in the pelvis. If you’re having symptoms that indicate the possibility of a PFD, contact your healthcare provider. Your condition may be able to be diagnosed during an exam, or you might require additional tests, such as urodynamic testing or cystoscopy.

There are both surgical and non-surgical treatment options for PFD. For many women, non-invasive techniques and treatments, such as biofeedback, pelvic muscle strengthening and electrical stimulation of the pelvic floor, can reduce symptoms. For others, surgical options, including minimally-invasive procedures like transvaginal prolapse repair and laparoscopic or robotic surgery, can restore function and structure to the pelvic floor.

Because PFD can involve the bladder, colon, rectum, muscles, skeletal system and nerves, a multidisciplinary approach to treatment often is needed to ensure the best outcome. At the Pelvic Health Program at Northwell’s Katz Institute for Women’s Health, we’ve integrated sub-specialties, including urogynecology, urology, colorectal surgery, gastroenterology, physical therapy and behavioral health, to streamline and improve treatment for these conditions.

“Pelvic floor disorders often aren’t siloed in one specific type of care,” said Dr. Harvey Winkler, System Chief, Division of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery, Urogynecology at Northwell Health. “This can make it difficult for patients to navigate their treatment. Through our collaborative approach at the Pelvic Health Program, patients receive multidisciplinary care, ensuring they receive the optimal treatment from the right specialist or team of specialists.”

While not all PFD can be prevented, there are ways to reduce your risk of developing one. Prevention strategies include regular exercise, specifically pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels, staying hydrated, maintaining a healthy diet that includes plenty of whole grains, vegetables and fruit and not smoking.

The Women’s Pelvic Health Program is dedicated to providing the very best treatment for pelvic floor disorders. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.

—Submitted by the Katz Institute for Women’s Health

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