What Are Pelvic Floor Disorders?

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What is a pelvic floor disorder?

Pelvic floor disorders are problems that affect women’s pelvic organs -- the uterus (or womb), vagina, bladder, rectum and the muscles that surround and support them. The three most common problems are pelvic organ prolapse, and trouble with bladder or bowel control. Each of these problems is described below. If you would like more information about pelvic floor problems, please visit the websites at the end of this page.

What is pelvic organ prolapse?

Pelvic organ prolapse is a general term used to describe a group of problems. Prolapse happens when one or more of the organs in the pelvis (the bladder, uterus, small intestines or rectum) fall into the vagina. Different terms describing prolapse include “cystocele” or “dropped bladder”; “uterine prolapse” or “dropped uterus”; “rectocele” or “enterocele.”

Some women with prolapse can see or feel a ‘bulge’ or ‘something coming out’ at the vaginal opening. Others with early prolapse do not know they have prolapse because they do not have these feelings or symptoms. Prolapse is not life threatening, but it can be uncomfortable. Prolapse sometimes makes it hard for women to do some of the things they want to do, like exercise. Prolapse sometimes makes it hard for women to empty their bladders normally.

What bladder problems do women have?

The most common bladder problem is urinary incontinence – when women leak urine when they don’t want to. Many women will have some urine leakage in their lives. Because it is so common, some women believe it is normal and do not tell their doctors. At the same time, many doctors do not ask women if they are having bladder control problems. As a result, many women with these problems do not get treated and suffer in silence. It does not have to be this way – all women can be treated, often without needing surgery, and almost all bladder problems can be improved.

What bowel problems do women have?

Some women with bowel problems lose stool from their rectum when they don’t want to. This is called “fecal incontinence.” They may lose liquid or solid stool. Women with this problem may also have trouble controlling gas. Like with bladder problems, many women live with this problem without telling anyone, including their doctor. Some women even have both bladder and bowel problems at the same time.

Remember, treatment is available for all types of pelvic floor problems.

Where can I go for more help?

There are many helpful websites you can visit for more information. Please visit these other sites to learn more about pelvic floor disorders.

American Urogynecologic Society (AUGS)

National Association for Continence (NAFC)

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)

National Institute on Aging (NIA)

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD)

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)