A multidisciplinary team at Loyola Medicine is launching a clinical research study to determine the most prevalent factors impacting young women's pelvic health. The study, which includes a team of researchers in urogynecology, epidemiology and public health, urology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, sports medicine and biostatistics, will be investigating how sports participation, history of musculoskeletal injury, and other factors correlate with reduced pelvic health in young women.
According to a National Institutes of Health study in 2014, 25% of women experience symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction such as incontinence, voiding dysfunction, urgency and painful urination. True prevalence is thought to be higher due to underreporting related to social stigma around pelvic health. Loyola's investigators will be exploring factors that put young women at risk for these symptoms including voiding and toileting behaviors, sports participation and musculoskeletal injury history, closeness of interpersonal relationships, and institutional factors affecting athletes including access to bathrooms and safety factors. They will be comparing the risk factors for reduced pelvic health in athletes and non-athletes.
Stacey Bennis, MD, the study's principal investigator, is a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation and sports medicine at Loyola Medicine. She is part of the multidisciplinary Center for Female Sports Medicine where she focuses on restoring function, mobility and independence for her patients. Pelvic floor physical therapy, treatment for pain, devices and surgical interventions are among the multidisciplinary treatment options available to her patients.
Young women, particularly athletes, may be at higher risk for reduced pelvic health than was previously thought. Dr. Bennis says,
Up to 80 percent of high school and collegiate female athletes participating in high-impact sports experience urinary stress incontinence. They experience leakage of urine, often as a result of jumping and running. We want to improve quality of life for women across their lifespan and that starts with performing research specifically focusing on women to better understand why pelvic health problems occur."
As a result of the study, Dr. Bennis and her team hope to launch an education program for patients and physicians, improve residency education curricula, influence public health and policy, improve patient and physician awareness of pelvic health and ultimately reduce the prevalence of pelvic floor dysfunction for women. She says, "this topic is stigmatized and historically physicians weren't screening women for pain or problems in the pelvic floor." As a specialist caring for women, she acknowledges the sensitivity patients feel in discussing pelvic health. She stresses the importance of collaborating with other female specialists to provide comprehensive care for women.