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 and holds them in place. The 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 weaken or are injured. A weak pelvic floor may not be able to provide the support that the pelvic organs need to function properly. Normal functioning of the bowel, bladder, uterus, vagina, or rectum can be affected.

The main pelvic floor disorders:
Pelvic floor disorders are divided into four main groups:

  • Pelvic organ prolapse: Prolapse occurs when the pelvic organs lose support and then fall into the vagina.  Women often feel a sense of bulge or vaginal heaviness.
  • Bladder disorders: These conditions include urinary leakage, urinary urgency and frequency, nighttime awakenings, difficulty emptying the bladder, recurrent infections, and bladder pain.
  • Bowel disorders: These conditions include problems with fecal smudging, difficulty controlling bowel movements, and constipation.
  • Fistulas: A fistula is an abnormal passage or tunnel between two structures, such as the bladder and the vagina, or the vagina and the rectum. They can form following a complicated surgery or difficult delivery.

What causes pelvic floor disorders?
Research on the causes of pelvic floor disorders isn’t definitive at this point, but studies indicate that contributing factors could include:

  • 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 with the number of children a woman has.  
  • Pressure on the pelvic floor: These factors include being overweight, straining to have a bowel movement, and chronic coughing from smoking or health problems.
  • Age: The pelvic floor can weaken with age.
  • Radiation treatment: Radiation therapy for endometrial, cervical, or other types of cancer in a woman’s pelvic region can damage pelvic floor muscles and tissues.

Risk factors for Pelvic Floor Disorders
Some risk factors for pelvic floor disorders are:

  • Smoking: Women who smoke are at higher 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: We cannot escape our genetics. Weak connective tissues can run in families. Given that many women do not discuss pelvic floor disorders, you may not know if your mother or grandmother had one. If you have a blood relative with one of these conditions, you are at higher risk.