The pelvic floor is a bowl-shaped group of muscles, ligaments and connective tissues that support the bowel, bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum. They attach to your pelvic bone in the front and your tailbone in the back. For example, a pelvic floor disorder may occur when women have weakened pelvic muscles or tears in the connective tissue due to excessive strain on the pelvis due to childbirth, repeated strenuous activity, menopause, chronic disease or pelvic surgery.
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Symptoms vary with each type of pelvic health disorder.
Different women may also experience different symptoms. Symptoms typically begin gradually and progress over time. If you experience one or more of the following symptoms, you may have a pelvic floor dysfunction:
- Constipation or infrequent bowel movements
- Difficulty starting to urinate or emptying the bladder
- Inability to hold a bowel movement
- Painful urination
- Pelvic pain or muscle spasms
- Painful intercourse
- Pressure or bulge in the vagina or rectum
- Urinating eight times or more in 24 hours
If you have any of these symptoms, you should discuss them with your primary physician and seek the expertise of the Avista Pelvic Health Center. Through our multidisciplinary approach to care, you will receive the highest level of medical expertise for pelvic floor disorders.
You are unique and your risk factors may be different based on genetics, life stage, lifestyle and overall health.
Here are some risk factors to consider:
- Age: The strength of your pelvic floor may deteriorate as you age.
- Race: The strength of your bones, muscles and connective tissue are influenced by your genes and race.
- Pregnancy/Childbirth: Childbirth can contribute to the development of pelvic health disorders. Vaginal birth doubles the rate of pelvic health disorders compared to Cesarean deliveries or women who never gave birth.
- Menopause: Pelvic floor muscles often weaken during menopause, which can lead to the development of pelvic organ prolapse.
- Obesity: If you are overweight or obese, your bladder may experience added pressure. This will put you at an increased risk of developing pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence.
- Diet: If you do not have enough fiber or water in your diet, your bowel movements are more likely to be hard or irregular. Processed foods can lead to constipation and certain dietary items, like caffeine and alcohol, can irritate your bladder and make you feel like you have to urinate.
- Smoking: If you smoke, you increase your risk of developing urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
- Heavy lifting: If your job involves heavy lifting or exertion, it can increase your risk of developing pelvic health disorders.
- Sexual dysfunction: Pelvic floor symptoms are significantly associated with reduced sexual arousal, infrequent orgasm and painful intercourse (known in medical terms as dyspareunia).
- Constipation/Chronic straining: If you are straining with constipation, you can put significant pressure on a weak vaginal wall and further thin it out.
- Pelvic injury/Surgery: You can experience the loss of pelvic support when the pelvic floor is injured from a fall, car accidents or surgery.
- Lung conditions/Chronic coughing: If you suffer with chronic respiratory disorders, the increased pressure in the abdomen and pelvis from coughing can increase the risk of pelvic organ prolapse.