Pelvic floor disorders are embarrassing, annoying, painful, and extremely disruptive to a woman’s life, often resulting in depression, anxiety, and a poor self-image. According to a 2021 study, approximately 75% of peripartum women and 68% of postmenopausal women feel insufficiently informed about pelvic floor disorders.1
Consequently, a large majority of women are not seeking care for these disorders. This drives health care costs higher as women wait until their symptoms are unbearable until finally seeking help. Many of these women don’t know they have options.
Who is at risk?
To understand the scope of this growing problem, it is vital to see who is most at risk. Parity, age, body mass index, and race are significant factors, although any woman can have a pelvic floor disorder (PFD).
Urinary incontinence (UI), pelvic floor prolapses (POP), and fecal incontinence (FI) are three of the most common pelvic floor disorders. Pregnancy and childbirth, specifically a vaginal birth, greatly contribute to this population’s risk. In pregnancy, the increase in plasma volume and glomerular filtration rate, along with hormone changes impacting urethral pressure and the growing gravid uterus, cause urinary frequency and nocturia. This can result in urinary incontinence during and after pregnancy.
Indeed, 76% of women with urinary incontinence at 3 months postpartum report it 12 years later.1 Third- and fourth-degree lacerations during delivery are uncommon (3.3%), but can cause fecal incontinence, often requiring surgery.1 Independently, all of these symptoms have been correlated with sexual dysfunction and postpartum depression.
One-third of all women and 50% of women over the age of 55 are. Contributing factors include hormone changes with menopause that affect the pelvic floor muscles and connective tissue, prior childbirth and pregnancy, constipation, heavy lifting, prior pelvic surgery, and obesity. These women are vulnerable to pelvic organ prolapse from the weakened pelvic floor muscles. They will often present with a vague complaint of “something is protruding out of my vagina.” These women also present with urinary incontinence or leakage, proclaiming they have to wear a diaper or a pad. Without proper knowledge, aging women think these issues are normal and nothing can be done.
The woman with a BMI above 30 may have damaged tissues supporting the uterus and bladder, weakening those organs, and causing a prolapse. Incontinence is a result of poor muscle and connective tissue of the vagina that support the urethra. Obese women can suffer from both urinary and bowel incontinence. By the year 2030, it is projected that one in two adults will be obese.2 This will greatly impact health care costs.
To date, there is little conclusive evidence on the impact of race on pelvic floor disorders. A study in Scientific Reports did find that Asian women have a significantly lower risk for any PFD.2 Some research has found that Black and Hispanic women have less risk for UI but are at higher risk for FI and other PFDs.3 Understandably, women of certain cultures and demographics may be less likely to report incontinence to their clinicians and may be less informed as well.