About Pelvic Floor Disorders

What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a bowl-shaped group of muscles and tissues that supports the pelvic organs, holding them in place. Pelvic organs include the bladder, small intestine, urethra, rectum, uterus and cervix.  

What is a pelvic floor disorder?
A pelvic floor disorder, or PFD, occurs when the pelvic muscles and connective tissue become weakened or injured. A weak pelvic floor may not be able to provide the support that pelvic organs need to function properly. Functioning of the bowel, bladder, uterus, vagina, or rectum may be affected.

What are the main pelvic floor disorders?
Pelvic floor disorders fall into one of four main types.

  • Pelvic organ prolapse: Prolapse occurs when your pelvic organs lose support and fall into the vagina. You typically feel a bulge or vaginal heaviness.
  • Bladder disorders: Conditions include urinary leakage, urgency and frequency, nighttime awakenings, trouble emptying the bladder, recurring infections, and bladder pain.
  • Bowel disorders: Conditions include fecal smudging, trouble controlling bowel movements and constipation.
  • Fistulas: A fistula is an abnormal passage or tunnel between two structures, such as the bladder and vagina, or vagina and rectum. A fistula may form after you have a complicated surgery or difficult delivery.

What causes pelvic floor disorders?
Research on the causes of pelvic floor disorders is not conclusive, but studies point to several possible contributing factors.

  • Pregnancy and childbirth: The relationship among pregnancy, childbirth and pelvic floor disorders remains unknown, but some studies have shown that the chance of PFD rises as a woman has more children.
  • Pressure on the pelvic floor: Factors include being overweight, straining to have a bowel movement, and chronic coughing related to smoking or health issues.
  • Age: The pelvic floor may weaken with age.
  • Radiation treatment: Radiation therapy for endometrial, cervical or other types of cancer in a woman’s pelvic region may damage pelvic floor muscles and tissues.

What are the risk factors?
There are several common risk factors for pelvic floor disorders.

  • Smoking: Women who smoke are at greater risk for developing bladder control problems and pelvic organ prolapse.
  • Frequent straining: Physical activities or jobs that require heavy lifting can increase the risk of bladder incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. Chronic constipation may also be a contributing factor.
  • Genetics: Weak connective tissues can run in families. Because many women do not publically discuss PFDs, you may not know if your mother or grandmother had one. You are at greater risk if you have a blood relative with a condition. 

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