Pelvic Health Issues You Should be Aware of
Pelvic health issues are generally associated with embarrassment and a slew of misconceptions, least of which is that only pregnant and older women experience them. While pregnancy, childbirth and aging are certainly risk factors, they’re not the only contributors to common pelvic health issues – these problems can occur during all stages of life. The pelvic floor plays a critical role in supporting its surrounding organs, and your general health, so it’s important to know what you should be looking out for.
If you’ve experienced symptoms like leakage (urine or bowel), an ‘urge’ to go more than you should, pelvic pressure or digestive symptoms that prevent you from keeping up with your daily routine, read on about common conditions that could be the culprits.
One of the most common forms of incontinence is overactive bladder (OAB).1 OAB is marked by a consistent strong urge to urinate, sometimes causing unwanted leaks before women can make it to the bathroom. Many women will experience OAB as well as stress urinary incontinence (SUI), which occurs when certain physical activities like coughing, sneezing or lifting can cause urine to leak.2 Risk factors for OAB include age (risk increases as women get older), childbirth, menopause and obesity.1,2 Read more about treatment options for OAB here.
Stress Urinary Incontinence
Stress urinary incontinence affects up to 48 percent of women over 18.3 SUI is most commonly marked by bladder leakage during physical activities, or really anything that results in exertion of the pelvis (like coughing or sneezing). SUI differs from OAB by affecting the urethra, rather than just the bladder alone.4 The condition occurs when the pelvic floor/urethra muscles are not strong enough to hold the urine in, so any additional pressure on the pelvis could cause a leak.4 Women are at a higher risk for SUI when they are overweight or smokers (smoking can lead to a chronic cough), and age can be a risk factor as well.5 Read more about treatment options for SUI here.
Given its symptoms, it’s no surprise that bowel leakage is rarely discussed among women. That doesn’t negate the fact that it’s actually quite common, and can cause symptoms that seriously impact a woman’s quality of life. Bowel leakage is marked by the inability to control bowel movements. It occurs in both men and women, but is much more common in women. Women are also at a higher risk for bowel leakage if they are post-partum as bowel leakage can be a complication of childbirth.6 In fact, between 13 and 25 percent of women report leakage 3-6 months after giving birth.7 Additionally, bowel leakage is more common among adults over the age of 65.6 While childbirth complications and age can increase your likelihood of experiencing leakage, risk factors like constipation, nerve or muscle damage in the lower back, and chronic conditions that cause nerve damage can also contribute. Read more about treatment options for bowel leakage here.
Pelvic Organ Prolapse8
Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when the muscles or tissue that support the pelvic organs become weak or loose, and move from their normal positions, sometimes falling out of the vaginal canal. Pelvic organ prolapse is more rare than other pelvic floor issues – impacting approximately 3 percent of U.S. women.
In addition to seeing or feeling something out of place, or “coming out” of the vagina, symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse include pelvic pressure, discomfort or aching, urine or bowel leakage, difficulty having a bowel movement, or problems inserting tampons. Women are at a greater risk for pelvic organ prolapse after a vaginal childbirth or hysterectomy, but other risk factors include aging and obesity. Read more about treatment options for pelvic organ prolapse here.
Stay in the Know
If these symptoms sound familiar, it may be time to talk to your doctor to find out what you can do. Use our doctor discussion guide to help you prepare for an informed conversation – so you can start on your journey to relief.
As part of our commitment to supporting women and providing resources to help keep them in the know about their below-the-belt health, Change the Cycle now features pelvic health resources that outline these conditions in more detail, sharing causes, symptoms and different types of treatment, for women looking for options. Follow along with us as we share helpful tips every week to help women live their lives to the fullest.
- National Institutes of Health. Bladder Control Problems. Symptoms and Causes. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-control-problems/symptoms-causes. Accessed January 2019.
- Mayo Clinic. Overactive Bladder. Symptoms and Causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/overactive-bladder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355715. Accessed January 2019.
- The Prevalence of Urinary Incontinence, Victor W. Nitti, MD, Reviews in Urology, June 2001. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1476070/.
- Mayo Clinic. Stress Incontinence. Symptoms and Causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stress-incontinence/symptoms-causes/syc-20355727. Accessed March 27, 2019.
- Urology Care Foundation. The Official Foundation of the American Urological Association. https://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/stress-urinary-incontinence-(sui). Accessed March 27, 2019.
- Mayo Clinic. Fecal Incontinence. Symptoms and Causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fecal-incontinence/symptoms-causes/syc-20351397. Accessed January 2019.
- Fecal Incontinence. Epidemiology: Frequency. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/268674-overview. Accessed January 2019.
- Office on Women’s Health. Pelvic organ prolapse. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/pelvic-organ-prolapse. Accessed March 2019.