Pelvic floor disorders 101

woman jogging

Laughing with your best friend until you pee your pants can be a hilarious memory or an embarrassing situation you wish to forget.

If you leak when you laugh, cough or exercise, it could be a sign that you have a weakened pelvic floor.

A damaged or weak pelvic floor can lead to conditions that make it hard to control your bladder (urinary incontinence) or bowel (fecal incontinence), as well as cause bulging in your pelvic area (pelvic organ prolapse).

“Pelvic floor disorders (PFDs) are prevalent. They affect one out of four women aged 20 or above,” says Bernard Taylor, Roper St. Francis Healthcare Urogynecologist.

To put it in context, that’s the same percentage of people with a cavity. But conversations about these conditions are less frequent than that of fillings and root canals. That’s because pelvic floor disorders can be painful, embarrassing and isolating for many women.

It’s important to know that while these conditions are common, they are not ‘normal’ at any age,” says Dr. Taylor. If you’re suffering from a PFD, Roper St. Francis Healthcare offers solutions that can get you back to living the full life you deserve.

What is the pelvic floor?

The pelvic floor is a basin-shaped structure at the base of the pelvis made of a few layers of muscles, ligaments and connective tissue. It supports your organs, including the bladder, bowel, rectum, uterus and vagina. The pelvic floor helps these organs function properly and keeps them in place.

What is a pelvic floor disorder?

Pelvic floor disorders generally result from weakening of the pelvic muscles or tears in the connective tissues. When the pelvic floor is damaged, it can’t provide the necessary support for your organs. As this structure weakens, normal functioning of the bladder, bowel, rectum, uterus and vagina can be affected.

Here are the three most common PFDs:

1. Urinary Incontinence – loss of bladder control ranging from minor leakage to complete inability to control.

2. Fecal incontinence – inability to control bowel movements or gas

3. Pelvic organ prolapse – loss of support for the uterus, bladder and rectum or vaginal walls, which may result in pressure or visible bulge from the vagina

Experts in PFDs

Pelvic floor disorders are treated by specialists called urogynecologists. In addition to medical school, urogynecologists complete a residency in obstetrics and gynecology or urology. They are board certified specialists with additional training and experience in evaluating and treating conditions that affect the female pelvic organ, the associated muscles and connective tissue.

Conditions like incontinence or vaginal bulges are sensitive topics and can be difficult to discuss, even with a doctor. However, our compassionate experts are accustomed to these conversations and provide a safe, non-judgmental environment so you can get the treatment you need. If you are experiencing symptoms related to a pelvic floor disorder, talk with your primary care provider or gynecologist. They will perform the initial assessment and refer you to a urogynecologist for treatment. If you need a doctor referral, call (843) 402-CARE, or learn more about pelvic floor disorders and treatment options.