What is Pelvic Floor Dysfunction? How Common Is It?
Last Thursday (May 2nd, 2013) I attended a lecture by Dr. Don Wilson, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Otago. Dr. Wilson presented his findings from a research study he conducted (with colleagues) titled Prolong: Longitudinal Study of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction and Childbirth.
My husband, who attends University of Otago, brought this lecture to my attention after watching me immerse myself in women’s health topics the last few months. Specifically, women’s health issues related to pregnancy. It started with research for a pregnancy strength training program I’m helping to develop (and testing – I’m almost six months pregnant!) that incorporates the latest research on the female body in pregnancy. I started with focusing on diastasis recti, which I have personal experience with, but that lead me down the maternal health path which is a little dark and scary…. And frankly, under-researched. Dare I say ignored?
Trying to find answers via the World Wide Web can be extremely frustrating. For every expert you find quoting statistics and recommending one course of action, you find another contradicting it. So I was very fortunate that my husband was invited to this lecture and I jumped at the chance
to leave my kids with a friend to attend with him.
What is Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?
Pelvic floor dysfunction covers a range of issues that occur when muscles of the pelvic floor are weak or ligaments and tissues are stretched or damaged. This could include bladder dysfunction, bowel dysfunction, pelvic organ prolapse (WARNING: graphic images… organs in the pelvis fall out of place), pelvic pain, or female sexual dysfuction.
Predisposing factors for pelvic floor dysfunction are congenital issues, advancing age, obesity, chronic straining, and… Drum roll please… Childbearing.
How Common is Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?
Random sample of 1546 women in South Australia returned these results:
- 35% suffering from urinary incontinence
- 14.4% suffereing from faecal incontinence
- 23.7% had already had pelvic repairs
- 8.8% were showing pelvic organ prolapse symptoms
The most alarming number for me is the numbers of women suffering from urinary incontinence. One-third of women are experiencing urinary incontinence post-baby yet no one’s really talking about it? Can’t be…
But it’s true. Dr. Wilson’s Prolong study had similar findings on urinary incontinence prevalence.
- Three months after delivery, 33% of women were experiencing some type of urinary incontinence. 3% of women were wearing pads daily to cope.
- Twelve years after delivery this number rises to 51.8% of women experiencing some type of urinary incontinence. 6.7% of women were wearing pads daily to cope.
Experiencing some type of incontinence after having a baby is super common! I’ve chatted with a number of girlfriends about this really annoying post-baby occurrence. In fact I can recall a surprising and mortifying experience after getting back on my treadmill for the first time post-baby… Eek! Thank God I was at home and not at the gym!
Fortunately for me this hasn’t become an ongoing issue (although the verdict may still be out following this next pregnancy and delivery) but for many women it is. Some women suffer daily; others may have the occasional urinary incontinence issue. In the Dr. Wilson’s Prolong study 16.5% of women were experiencing leakage once a week or less. This number may be more concerning than women experiencing daily leakage as it’s more likely to go unreported to the family doctor.
Many of you reading this may be thinking “phew, safe!” but there’s more. Find out how the way your baby was delivered affects your chances of developing pelvic floor issues sooner OR later…