Nearly one in three women will develop a pelvic floor disorder. At Massachusetts General Hospital, we bring patients lasting relief by treating not just their symptoms, but also the underlying causes.
Questions to ask your doctor
1. What could be causing my symptoms? A medication I'm taking? My diet? A physical problem or medical condition?
2. What tests can confirm a pelvic floor disorder diagnosis?
3. How are pelvic floor disorders treated?
4. How will we determine which treatment is right for me?
5. Should I see a pelvic floor disorder specialist?
The pelvic floor is a network of muscles, ligaments and tissues in the lower abdominal area. It acts like a hammock to support the uterus, bladder, vagina and rectum. Pelvic floor disorders are caused by tears, weakness or poor function of the muscles and nerves in the pelvic floor.
Generally, pelvic floor disorders:
- Are more common in women than in men
- Will affect one in three women
- Become more common with age
Some pelvic floor disorders are similar to hernias, in which tissue protrudes abnormally. These include:
- Vaginal or rectal prolapse (sagging of the vagina or rectum)
- Rectocele (protrusion or herniation of the rectum into the vagina)
- Cystocele (a herniation of the bladder into the vagina)
- Enterocele (a herniation of the intestine into the vagina)
- Sigmoidocele (a herniation of the sigmoid colon into the vagina)
Other pelvic floor disorders are caused by muscle dysfunction or poor muscle coordination. These include:
- Urinary incontinence
- Fecal incontinence
Both men and women can suffer from pelvic floor disorders. However, the disorders are more common in women, particularly those who have undergone vaginal childbirth.
Factors contributing to pelvic floor disorders include:
- Muscle strain or perineal tears associated with obstetrical delivery
- Connective tissue disorders
- Degenerative neurologic conditions
- Heavy lifting
- Pelvic injury from a road accident or other trauma
- Surgery or radiation for uterine, cervical, prostate or rectal cancer
Diverse Treatment Options
Pelvic floor disorders are under-reported and under-diagnosed. That’s because many patients are uncomfortable talking about their symptoms or assume these problems can’t be corrected. In fact, a variety of surgical and nonsurgical treatments can significantly improve function and alleviate pain and inconvenience.
All patients are evaluated by a multidisciplinary team of pelvic health specialists. First they identify the precise nature of the problem, then plan a course of treatment that may include any (or a combination) of the following:
- Physical therapy
- Nutritional counseling
- Surgery, including minimally invasive surgical techniques