Nearly 30 percent of women will suffer from conditions caused by deterioration of muscles, connective tissues, bone structures and ligaments in the pelvis at some point in their lifetime. Together, these are collectively known as the "pelvic floor," and are critical to supporting organs such as the uterus and bladder. Yet as common as pelvic floor disorders are, many women do not seek treatment, suffering from needless discomfort and embarrassment.Think you have a pelvic floor disorder? Complete our confidential form to schedule an appointment.
"A majority of women are not seeing doctors about these problems because they consider them a normal part of aging, they are embarrassed to talk about them or they believe that not much can be done to help," says Dr. Aparna Shah, a Urogynecologist at The Christ Hospital Health Network.
Pelvic floor disorders take many forms, many of them disruptive to everyday life. Common complaints include accidental bladder and bowel leakage, vaginal bulge and discomfort during sex. Vaginal dryness, itching and discharge could also be signs of a pelvic floor issue. Women who have delivered children vaginally or are post-menopausal are at highest risk for these disorders, but even younger women who have not given birth may suffer from pelvic floor related issues.
"We want patients to understand that these disorders are very common. They are often treatable, so we want to encourage women to come and talk to us about them," Dr. Shah says. "Women shouldn't feel that they have to live with them.
"Advanced treatment options and alternatives to surgery, some of which The Christ Hospital Pelvic Floor Center helped to develop, are making pelvic floor care easier. Many can now be performed as outpatient procedures without general anesthesia.
For example, Botox injections can be used to relax the bladder. "Botox is highly effective for patients who suffer from urinary urgency, frequency and incontinence associated with urinary urgency," Dr. Shah says.
Another relatively new non-surgical technique is MonaLisa Touch, an outpatient laser procedure used to treat women with vaginal atrophy, or symptoms that come from a lack of estrogen.
"There are some women for whom vaginal estrogen therapy isn't effective or who can't use vaginal estrogen because of medical issues such as breast cancer," Dr. Shah explains. MonaLisa Touch requires a series of three treatments performed about six weeks apart, often with an annual follow-up treatment. "It is very well tolerated. Our hospital was involved with the initial studies on that project, and we've seen around a 70 percent improvement rate for women."
In the last decade, the center has also had success treating overactive bladder, urgency and urgency incontinence with sacral neural modulation, or electronically stimulating bladder nerves to restore normal function.
"The great thing about that procedure is it's done in two phases," Dr. Shah says. "The first stage is just a completely reversible test where the patient tries out a test wire for one to two weeks. If it works, then we can implant a small battery that provides constant neuro-stimulation."
Urogynecologic surgical options have also become less invasive. "Even some of our bigger surgeries are much less invasive now than they may have been 20 years ago," Dr. Shah says. "With our minimally-invasive surgical approaches, we see less post-operative pain, less post-operative narcotic use and a quicker return to activities of daily living."
Dr. Shah says The Christ Hospital Pelvic Floor Center offers unique benefits over traditional treatment. "The Pelvic Floor Center is entirely devoted to multidisciplinary care for women with pelvic floor disorders. No matter what your pelvic floor disorder is, there is a specialist there who has significant expertise in it."