Don’t be embarrassed. Speak up: Women’s Pelvic Health
A woman’s pelvic heath status has an impact on many areas of her life, including her physical, mental, social, and sexual well-being. Understanding the common issues that may arise and treatment options available will help demystify this essential aspect of women’s health.
“It’s important for women to know about pelvic health,” explains Dr. Justin Lee, a urogynecology and pelvic reconstructive surgeon at Dignity Health. “These are very common conditions that women experience.”
Two such common conditions are urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
Urinary incontinence may be “stress urinary incontinence,” when a leakage of urine is caused by coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising, or any exertion of pressure in the abdomen. It may also be caused by an overactive bladder that increases the frequency or urgency of urination.
Statistics show that urinary incontinence is a fairly common condition that becomes more common as women age. “In fact, about 10-20% of all women suffer from incontinence and nearly 80% of elderly women living in nursing homes experience this issue,” says Dr. Lee. Unfortunately, urinary incontinence is likely underdiagnosed, which often prevents women from seeking care.
A variety of treatment options are available, from less intrusive management and medical solutions all the way to surgical intervention. On the less intrusive side are options such as pelvic floor exercises or medication to assist bladder control. On the other end of the spectrum are options like Botox injections into the bladder or the surgical implantation of an InterStim to stimulate the nerves that control the bladder. “Oftentimes we call them ‘bladder pacemakers,’” relays Dr. Lee.
Pelvic Organ Prolapse
Pelvic organ prolapse may be caused by conditions that stress the pelvic floor, like pregnancy, childbirth, obesity, and hysterectomy. It may present as a bladder drop, the uterus or rectum protruding toward the vaginal opening, or vaginal prolapse.
Here again, there are a variety of treatment options. For a start, conservative management. “If it doesn’t bother the patient, they can actually monitor and watch out for their condition,” notes Dr. Lee. Another option is the insertion of a prosthetic called a pessary that supports the internal structure of the vagina. Finally, surgical intervention is also on the table.
When to Seek Medical Advice
Although common experiences—oftentimes daily—many women are reluctant to seek help. Dr. Lee advises exploring treatment options with your primary care physician when the concerns and experience of urinary incontinence worsen. A referral to a urogynecologist or someone who specializes in female urology and pelvic organ prolapse should follow.
Early detection and early treatment can improve the long-term quality of life for women with pelvic health issues.
**To listen to our Hello Healthy Podcast with Dr. Justin Lee, a urogynecology and pelvic reconstructive surgeon at Dignity Health Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, visit dignityhealth.org/bakersfield/podcasts