As you grow older, there are certain things you just have to get used to: thinning hair, needing reading glasses, even finding that you’re a little shorter. What’s not on that list: pelvic floor problems such as incontinence.
Many women have a pelvic floor disorder, which means the muscles below the pelvis are weak or injured. This weakness is one of the leading causes of urinary and bowel incontinence in women. While pelvic floor problems are quite common, they are not a normal part of aging.
“There are many treatments available for pelvic floor disorders,” says Ali Luck, M.D., a urogynecologist at the Henry Ford Women’s Pelvic Health & Continence Center in West Bloomfield. “You don’t have to spend the rest of your life wearing pads. There is no reason why a pelvic floor disorder should keep you at home or be a barrier to having an active social life.”
Understand the problem
In addition to a pelvic floor disorder, women may also have a condition called “prolapse,” in which organs, such as the uterus or bladder, fall out of place due to a lack of support from vaginal pelvic muscles.
A number of factors including family history, certain life events and health issues can kick-start a pelvic floor disorder or make it worse. Giving birth (especially to a large baby), having chronic constipation or coughing, or having a job that requires you to frequently lift heavy objects can all put stress on your pelvic floor.
“These problems are very common,” says Dr. Luck. “One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that nearly one in four women will have at least one pelvic floor disorder in her life, and it gets worse with age. With the average life expectancy of women now into the 80s, it can be a big problem.”
Talk with a specialist
If you or someone you love has a pelvic floor problem, the most important thing is to get help. Henry Ford West Bloomfield has board-certified physicians who specialize in this area.
“Many people don’t realize that there is an entire medical field in pelvic floor medicine and reconstructive surgery, and there are specialists trained specifically in urologic gynecology,” says Dr. Luck. “With the aging population on the rise, a lot of women have these problems. We want people to know that they have options. We’re here to help.”
Know your options
If you have urinary or bowel incontinence, you may have a pelvic floor disorder. Get evaluated by a specialist. Once your doctor understands what’s happening, he or she can recommend a treatment plan.
A variety of options are possible, including:
- A specialized vaginal insert called a pessary that provides extra pelvic floor support
- Physical therapy with a pelvic floor rehabilitation specialist to strengthen pelvic floor muscles
- Inpatient and outpatient surgical procedures
Even if you have a serious prolapse, a hysterectomy isn’t your only option. In many cases, other surgical options can preserve the uterus.