By Katherine Stevenson, MD
Times have changed. Women no longer need to be shy about pelvic discomfort and associated health problems.
Many women struggle with incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse or dry tissue. Each of these medical concerns can lead to pain, dysfunction and even emotional, social and sexual issues. They may cause problems for women when they are exercising, standing, walking or even sitting.
Women who experience one or more of these issues can take steps to alleviate the problem and get back to regular life without embarrassment. And because these are medical issues, treatment is typically covered by insurance.
Three common problems
Incontinence can vary in type and severity. Urge incontinence or overactive bladder is characterized by the urgent and frequent need to urinate. Stress incontinence is sporadic and may result from sneezing, coughing or physical activities.
Pelvic organ prolapse can occur gradually or quickly and is easily diagnosed with a pelvic examination. It usually occurs in women who have given birth, and appears many years later. Symptoms include a vaginal bulge, pelvic pressure or heaviness. This symptom is usually worse for women when they are standing or active. Some women also experience a change in bowel and bladder function.
Vaginal dryness is a common problem for women as they age and also for women with breast cancer who are being treated hormonally. It also can be caused by a skin condition. Regardless, it can result in pain and sexual issues.
Pelvic health care
Concerns about pelvic health may not come up during a primary care visit. Patients don’t always feel comfortable talking about pelvic problems with their doctors, especially when they are trying to cope with the problem on their own.
Women who are not routinely screened for gynecologic cancer don’t receive regular pelvic exams. If pelvic exams aren’t performed as part of an annual physical and a woman does not mention pelvic health concerns, her primary care physician may not know that medical attention is required.
You don’t have to suffer in silence. Women’s health providers should be able to evaluate pelvic problems and treat the conditions.
Urogynecology is a medical specialty focusing on all aspects of pelvic health. If you cannot be successfully treated by your primary care physician, you may be referred to a gynecologist or urogynecologist.
You can take steps immediately to start getting help for a pelvic problem:
Tell your doctor about your symptoms.
Schedule a pelvic health exam.
Discuss your medical history, health care preferences and health goals with your doctor.
Work with your doctor to develop a timeline for prescribed care and self-care.
Follow up with your doctor within two to three months.
Treatments for these conditions vary according to the individual’s symptoms, diagnosis and treatment plan. In many cases, if one treatment does not meet the patient’s goals, other options are available.
For example, incontinence may be treated with exercise, behavioral therapy, pelvic floor therapy, over-the-counter or prescription medications, nerve stimulation, Botox or medical devices. Some of these treatments also may be helpful for pelvic organ prolapse, and there are surgical options as well.
Dryness also can be treated with prescription and over-the-counter remedies. In addition, laser therapy can help to energize and restore dry tissue, eliminating pain and sexual dysfunction.
MonaLisa Touch™ laser therapy is a new, FDA-approved treatment offered by ProHealth Care that has been helpful for women who can’t use estrogen or have not experienced relief of dryness with vaginal estrogen. Although insurers don’t cover the treatment, it can offset prescription and other costs for some women.
The secret’s out
Women’s unique health needs are openly discussed in the media. They are talked about because they are legitimate medical concerns that affect quality of life for large numbers of people.
If the general public knows about painful and annoying gynecologic symptoms, shouldn’t your doctor know about yours?
Katherine Stevenson, MD, is board-certified in urogynecology and obstetrics and gynecology. She has offices within the D. N. Greenwald Center in Mukwonago and at ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital.
To learn more about Dr. Stevenson, visit ProHealthCare.org/KatherineStevenson. To learn more about ProHealth Women’s Health Services or the MonaLisa Touch laser, visit ProHealthCare.org/Women.
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For more than a century, ProHealth Care has been the health care leader in Waukesha County and surrounding areas, providing outstanding care across a full spectrum of services. The people of ProHealth Care strive to continuously improve the health and well-being of the community by combining skill, compassion and innovation. The ProHealth family includes ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Rehabilitation Hospital of Wisconsin, ProHealth Medical Group, the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care, Moreland Surgery Center, ProHealth AngelsGrace Hospice, ProHealth Home Care, ProHealth West Wood Health & Fitness Center and ProHealth Regency Senior Communities. Learn more at ProHealthCare.org.