Embarrassing symptoms prevent women from seeking treatment for pelvic floor disorders

Nearly 25% of women live with treatable conditions known as pelvic floor disorders, but there is one main reason why the vast majority of them will not seek treatment: they are too embarrassed to talk about it.

Too often the symptoms of a pelvic floor disorder are brushed off as a normal part of aging. Even if a woman knows the symptoms aren't normal, they still hesitate to open up or ask their doctor for help because they are embarrassed to talk about it."

Danielle Antosh, M.D., urogynecologist, Houston Methodist

Common pelvic floor disorders are urinary incontinence, accidental bowel leakage and pelvic organ prolapse, a condition where the bladder, uterus, or rectum drop on to or even in to the vagina creating a hernia. Women who have had children vaginally or by assisted delivery using forceps have a higher chance of developing a pelvic floor disorder. Though natural, these forms of childbirth place immense pressure on the pelvic floor weakening the muscles and tissues over time.

"It's very common for women dealing with a pelvic floor disorder to avoid social situations where they might experience leakage," Antosh said. "By isolating themselves at home, these women have a higher risk of depression."

If these women would speak up, they would learn that there are numerous things a doctor can do to help, she said.

Carol Hamline was one of the women who did seek help. She had severe vaginal and rectal prolapse, and the pain and discomfort limited the time she spent sitting down or away from home.

Hamline found Antosh, who said she could do surgery to repair Hamline's vaginal prolapse and return her to a normal quality of life. Antosh partnered with colorectal surgeon Scott McKnight, M.D., for the nearly five hour surgery to repair both prolapses.

"Now I can go to dinner with my family, take long car rides and just live my life again," Hamline said. "It was important to me to share my story because I know many other women out there are desperate and are too embarrassed to talk about their situation or can't find a doctor who knows how to help them."

Antosh said doing Kegel exercises regularly, managing a normal weight and preventing constipation can help reduce a woman's risk for pelvic floor disorders.

"It's just not acceptable that women are living with quality of life issues when there are many non-surgical options and minimally-invasive surgeries available to treat a pelvic floor disorder," Antosh said. "I would encourage any woman dealing with a pelvic floor disorder to talk to her doctor and then share her experience with female friends and family to help educate them and encourage them to talk to their doctors too."

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