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pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence
Pelvic Organ Prolapse & UI | Image Courtesy of Eugene Chystiakovof via Unsplash

What are Pelvic Organ Prolapse and Urinary Incontinence?

What is the biggest risk factor for both conditions? And how can you tell if you have them?

Not sure? You’re not alone. In fact, one research study found women actually know more about erectile dysfunction than they do about pelvic organ prolapse! While pharmaceutical company advertising bias may be to blame for part of that equation, one of the largest surveys of pregnant women and new moms ever conducted on the subject (by a team of medical experts in New England) reveals women’s healthcare providers consistently miss their biggest window of opportunity to educate patients about these conditions and offer treatment strategies that work.

First, let’s take a quick look at each condition and answer a few of those questions about pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence.

Pelvic Organ Prolapse, or POP, occurs when a pelvic organ (often the bladder) drops a little lower in the body due to lack of support from weakened muscles and ligaments in the pelvic floor.

The most common symptoms are a bulge in the vagina (that’s the ‘prolapse’) and/or an uncomfortable feeling of heaviness in the pelvic area. Urinary Incontinence can occur with POP or as a separate condition. The symptoms, an increased urge to urinate or some degree of urine leakage, are more commonly recognized by women; but they’re also more likely than POP to be dismissed. Together, these conditions affect 1 in 4 women in the U.S.

And childbirth is the biggest risk factor for both conditions…

which is what makes this study’s findings so important to women and their healthcare providers.

Researchers asked adult women from a variety of backgrounds who were pregnant or up to eight weeks postpartum several questions related to their knowledge of both conditions and possible symptoms. More than two-thirds of the women had delivered at least one child previously, and more than half had at least some college education. The findings are troubling, to say the least.

  • An alarming 70% of the women showed a significant lack of knowledge about both pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence and the symptoms of each one.
  • Less than half of those women knew childbirth was the major risk factor for urinary incontinence, including the 39% of women who had those symptoms.
  • Less than one-third of those women knew childbirth was a major risk factor for pelvic organ prolapse, including many of the 4.8% who had POP symptoms.

Despite the potential for serious physical, emotional, and social consequences when these conditions are left untreated, we already know women find it difficult or embarrassing to mention these symptoms to their healthcare providers.

But the frequency of visits and the relationships developed between doctor and patient while a woman is pregnant or newly postpartum provides a perfect window of opportunity for three different, strategic ‘asks’:

If you’re pregnant… Ask your OB about urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse at your next appointment. How can you recognize the symptoms? And what steps can you take now to avoid or address these issues later?

If you’re a healthcare provider or childbirth educator… Ask yourself how you can best incorporate patient education about urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse in your treatment plans and classes during and after pregnancy. It’s a discussion 98% of the women who participated in this survey said they would like their providers to initiate.

If you’re struggling with symptoms of either condition… Ask your OB about a treatment plan, or a referral to a urogynecologist or women’s health physical therapist. Pelvic floor therapy is a proven, non-surgical method of treatment that has helped countless women with both conditions.

Above all, don’t take ‘normal’ for an answer. urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse are more common than you think; but neither condition is a normal part of life after childbirth. You can recover; and Femina PT can help.

 

References:

McKay E.R., Lundsberg L., Miller D., et al 2019. Knowledge of Pelvic Floor Disorders in Obstetrics. Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery 25:6 419-25.

Richter L.A., Gutman R.E., Tefera E. et al., 2015. Knowledge of Erectile Dysfunctions and Pelvic Floor Disorders Among Young Adults: A Cross Sectional Study. The Canadian Journal Of Urology 5:22 7715-19.

What Our Patients Have to Say

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Testimonial by R.M., Age 40

I can’t speak highly enough of the theapists at Femina Physical Therapy and how much they have helped me grow, discover, and love my body. I had had painful sex for my entire life, and didn’t know that there was anything that could be done about it. It was at the point where my husband and I were not having sex for MONTHs, because it was just too frustrating, and I hated feeling like I was the ONLY woman out there who had this problem, especially at my age. I finally brought it up to my doctor because I was turning 40 and my husband and I were barely having enough sex to conceive. And she brought up pelvic floor, PT. I didn’t even know this was a “thing”.

Read more: Testimonial by R.M., Age 40

Testimonial by Lauren B.

Femina PT (née Fusion Wellness & Physical Therapy) has been such an answer to prayer, i'm so glad I found them! I've been struggling with vaginismus my whole life, but didn't have a name for it until about 6 or 7 months ago. Even once I did have a name for it though, I didn't know where to begin in getting help. My OB/GYN had me get a set of dilators, but I couldn't even insert the smallest one by myself. Most times I tried I just ended up frustrated and in tears. I felt really alone, like I was broken and didn't have the energy to keep trying. When I got engaged a few months ago though, I realized I needed to get answers so i wasn't dreading my honeymoon.

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Testimonial by R.S.

I wanted to thank you so much for helping me get through something I thought I may never be able to. We have achieved pain-free intercourse and this has really solidified our marriage. We are so grateful to you for all the work you do! Thank you!!

-- R.S.

Testimonial by S.S., age 54

Heather is the best! I saw her today for terrible hip/groin pain. I was so impressed with the safety measures in place and felt completely safe . Thanks for the healing hands.

S.S., age 54

Testimonial by S.H., age 24

I just wanted to thank you for everything you've done for me for the past 19 months. I literally could not have reached my goals without you and your practice. You gave me the courage to keep moving forth with my treatment no matter how afraid and anxious I was. You were always there to answer questions and made this whole process so much easier than I expected it to be.

It's because of you that my marriage is on the right track, that I can get pregnant and that this part of my life is finally over. I really feel that Fusion Wellness is a team of people you can call family and are there to root for you and cheer you on until you reach your goals. There is nothing better than knowing I accomplished this with you guys by my side and as calmly and patiently as I needed. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for always being there and helping me reach my goals.

S.H., age 24

Testimonial by T.H.

I started seeing Heather in October 2014. For more than two years, I had been suffering from painful urinary tract infection type symptoms after my bartholins gland surgery which included constant burning and urinary frequency sensation that led to more and more painful intercourse. I had made multiple visits to internist, obgyn and urologist's offices, went through a range of treatment with UTI and bladder frequency medication that included antibiotics, vesicare, estrogen cream, but nothing worked.

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