New research in the US has revealed the high prevalence of pelvic floor disorders in women. Conducted by Kaiser Permanente, a health research centre in the US, the study showed a third of women surveyed suffered pelvic floor related conditions.
The study included some 4000 women from a broad age range, 80 percent of whom had given birth, an event which can lead to weakened pelvis floor muscles.
A third of the women were found to suffer from one or more pelvic floor disorders, which include symptoms such as the frequent urge to urinate, dropped pelvic organs and incontinence.
Women generally start experiencing incontinence much younger than men, often in their thirties, and it is associated with pregnancy and childbirth.
"These conditions really affect women's quality of life. Many women think this is just something they have to deal with as they age and that there isn't anything they can do about it, but that's not true," said lead author Jean M Lawrence.
Both urinary and faecal incontinence are commonly associated with pregnancy and childbirth and may predispose women to more chronic episodes of incontinence later in life.
It is known that women who have given birth are more likely to experience urinary incontinence compared with those who have not.
However, there is still speculation about whether is it the pregnancy, and the extra weight that is put on the pelvic organs during this time, that predisposes women to incontinence or vaginal delivery.
Certainly with faecal incontinence research has shown that whether women have a vaginal or caesarean birth the prevalence is the same.
"One of the myths surrounding pelvic floor disorder is that it affects only older women, but the truth is these conditions are extremely prevalent and extremely debilitating. But because the subject matter isn't cocktail conversation, women feel isolated and don't seek support and treatment," said Kaiser Permanente study co-author Karl Luber.
Other risk factors that are associated with these pelvic floor disorders include menopause, a high BMI, lower urinary tract infections and symptoms and constipation.
Pelvic floor disorders can have a negative impact on lifestyle and wellbeing especially emotional wellbeing and yet many women are not seeking help.
Dr Luber's advice for women with overactive bladders and urgency to urinate, involuntary leaking of urine during physical activity, anal incontinence or sagging pelvic organs is to seek medical help from a doctor who specialises in the area.
"Among the available options for treatment for these common disorders are physical therapy to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, devices that can be fit to support your vaginal walls, and surgery. Many of today's surgeries are very non-invasive and can be done as an outpatient," Dr Luber said.
One of the latest treatments to hit the markets is Botox. A simple injection of the toxin into the bladder lining could bring relief to the many Australians that suffer from urinary incontinence.
Pelvic floor exercises can also help so why not try some? They can be done anywhere, anytime and it may have other benefits as well.
Statistics in Australia:
- Urinary incontinence affects up to 13 percent of Australian men and up to 37 percent of Australian women.
- Faecal incontinence affects up to 20 percent of Australian men and up to 12.9 percent of Australian women.
- Sixty five percent of women and 30 percent of men sitting in a GP waiting room report some type of urinary incontinence, yet only 31 percent of these people report having sought help from a health professional.
- Urinary incontinence among males increases with age with up to 40 percent of men over the age of 85 reporting some level of urinary incontinence.
- The prevalence of urge incontinence, which is strongly associated with prostate disease, is fairly low in younger males and increases to 30 percent for those aged 70-84 and 50 percent for those 85 years and over.
- Women comprise over 70 percent of people affected by incontinence, with problems arising primarily after childbirth and menopause.
With statistics like these, men and women need to know how to best protect their health by seeking out solutions to maintain and/or restore their quality of life and full functionality.
Where to get help
Do you suffer from incontinence? The Continence Foundation of Australia provides information, advice and a list on where to get help
They also have a national continence helpline is 1800 330 066. This is a free call service accessible from anywhere in Australia staffed by a team of experienced continence nurse advisors who provide information, education and advice.
Adapted from materials provided by Kaiser Permanente's Division of Research and Continence Foundation of Australia.