Pelvic floor disorders (PFDs) are a set of conditions that impact the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor encompasses the muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue in the lower part of the pelvis. It provides support to essential organs like the bladder, uterus, rectum, and more. The pelvic floor ensures that these organs remain in their proper places and function optimally.
Causes of PFDs
In general, PFDs occur due to weakened pelvic muscles or tears in the connective tissue. When the pelvic floor is damaged, it cannot adequately support the organs, leading to various issues. While some causes of PFDs are better understood than others, ongoing research aims to shed light on all contributing factors. The PFD Research Foundation plays a crucial role in funding researchers and clinical scientists in their quest for answers.
- Did you know that your brain controls the muscles of the pelvic floor through nerves?
- Health conditions or injuries affecting the nerves, such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, back surgery, spinal stenosis, or childbirth, can weaken the pelvic floor muscles.
Assessing Your Risk
Approximately one in four women aged 20 or older experiences PFDs. Many women struggle with multiple PFDs, including pelvic organ prolapse, urinary incontinence, and fecal incontinence. It is essential to be aware of the factors that contribute to PFDs and evaluate your own risk.
- Pregnancy/Childbirth: The strain on the pelvic floor during delivery can contribute to PFDs. Vaginal births double the risk of pelvic floor disorders compared to cesarean deliveries or women who have never given birth.
- Menopause: The pelvic floor muscles often weaken during menopause, potentially leading to pelvic organ prolapse.
- Senior: As women age, the strength of the pelvic floor naturally deteriorates, increasing the risk of pelvic organ prolapse.
Race and Ethnicity
- Genetic: Some women are born with weaker pelvic floor muscles, placing them at a higher risk for PFDs. If your mother or sister has a PFD, you have an increased likelihood of developing one.
- Race: Caucasian women are more prone to prolapse and urine leakage related to coughing, sneezing, and physical activities. African American women are more likely to experience urinary leakage related to urgency.
- Ethnicity: Mexican American women face a higher risk of urinary incontinence compared to other Hispanic/Latino women. However, this difference could reflect a reluctance to seek medical care and/or language barriers.
- Obesity: Overweight or obese women experience increased pressure on the bladder and often have weak pelvic muscles, contributing to the development of pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence.
- Diet: Insufficient fiber or water in a woman’s diet can lead to hard or irregular bowel movements. Processed foods and certain beverages like caffeine and alcohol can irritate the bladder, causing frequent urination.
- Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence. Quitting smoking is highly recommended, as it is detrimental to bladder health and can damage connective tissue in the pelvic area.
- Heavy Lifting / Exertion: Occupations involving heavy lifting or strenuous activity pose a higher risk of developing PFDs. Repetitive strenuous activities and even stair climbing can lead to urine leakage in some women.
Health Problems/Medical History
- Constipation/Chronic Straining: Straining during constipation puts considerable pressure on the weak vaginal wall, increasing the risk of pelvic organ prolapse.
- Pelvic Injury/Surgery: Loss of pelvic support can occur due to falls, car accidents, or surgical procedures. Hysterectomy and other treatments for pelvic organ prolapse can sometimes cause further prolapse.
- Lung Conditions/Chronic Coughing: Chronic respiratory disorders elevate abdominal and pelvic pressure, contributing to the risk of pelvic organ prolapse.
- Sexual Dysfunction: Pelvic floor symptoms significantly affect sexual arousal, frequency of orgasm, and can cause painful intercourse.
- Health Conditions or Injuries Affecting the Nerves: Conditions like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, back surgery, spinal stenosis, or childbirth can weaken the pelvic floor muscles.
- Emotional Stress: Emotional stress can increase anxiety and the urge to urinate. In some cases, it can also result in loose stools.
Learning the Terms
Mastering the language of medicine takes time, and the same goes for understanding the unique terms, phrases, and acronyms associated with PFDs. To get started on your path to pelvic floor disorder literacy, here’s a glossary that will help you navigate this new dialect.
PFD 101: Fact or Fiction
Test your knowledge of pelvic floor disorders with our true or false quiz. Challenge yourself and see how much you know about this important topic.
Now that you have a better grasp of PFDs and the factors that contribute to their development, you can take proactive steps to protect your pelvic floor health. Remember, your well-being is in your hands!