Pelvic Floor Disorders Affect 1 in 3 Women

SATURDAY March 1, 2008 -- One-third of women in the United States have one or more pelvic floor disorders, and age has no significant effect on these disorders, says a Kaiser Permanente study.

Frequent urge to urinate, incontinence and dropped pelvic organs are among the symptoms of such disorders.

The study of 4,000 women (80 percent had given birth) found that 25 percent suffered from anal incontinence, 15 percent from stress urinary incontinence, 13 percent from overactive bladder, and 6 percent from dropped pelvic organs (pelvic organ prolapse). The women in the study were aged 25 to 84. The findings were published in the March issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

"These conditions really affect a woman's quality of life. Many women think this is just something they have to deal with as they age, and there isn't anything they can do about it, but that's not true," study author Jean M. Lawrence, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente's department of research and evaluation in southern California.

A previous study by the same team of researchers found that vaginal births double the rate of pelvic floor disorders, compared to Caesarean deliveries or never giving birth.

"One of the myths surrounding pelvic floor disorder is that it affects only older women, but the truth is these conditions are extremely prevalent and extremely debilitating. But because the subject matter isn't cocktail conversation, women feel isolated and don't seek support and treatment," study co-author Dr. Karl Luber, a urogynecologist in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medial Center, said in a prepared statement.

Women with symptoms of pelvic floor disorders should consult with a doctor trained in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, he advised.

"Among the available options for treatment for these common disorders are physical therapy to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, devices that can be fit to support your vaginal walls, and surgery. Many of today's surgeries are very noninvasive and can be done as an outpatient," Luber said.

In the United States, more than 15 million women have stress urinary incontinence, 16 million have an overactive bladder, and one in 10 suffers from anal incontinence, according to information in a news release about the study.

Posted: March 2008


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