Published on May 23, 2021

A woman exercising with her dog.

Don’t let pelvic health concerns affect your daily life

Many women struggle too long with incontinence, prolapse, dry tissue or other pelvic issues. The symptoms may be uncomfortable to discuss, but there often are simple solutions, especially when issues are addressed early.

Women who are not routinely screened for gynecologic cancer may not receive regular pelvic exams. If pelvic exams are not performed as part of an annual physical and a woman does not mention urine leakage, pelvic pressure or pain, her primary care provider may not even know that a pelvic issue exists.

When a woman shares concerns during an office visit, her provider may refer her to a women’s health specialist. Urogynecologists are physicians trained in obstetrics and gynecology who went on to specialize in treatment of the pelvic organs – the bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum – and the pelvic floor muscles that hold the organs in place. These physicians help patients address bladder and bowel control issues, vaginal hernias called pelvic organ prolapse, and other pelvic floor disorders.

"Patients don’t always feel comfortable discussing pelvic floor problems, especially when they are trying to cope with an issue on their own," said Katherine Stevenson, MD, a ProHealth Medical Group urogynecologist. "Specialists treat these conditions on an everyday basis."

It’s time to seek treatment for a pelvic health issue when it causes lifestyle changes, pain, or emotional, social or sexual issues, Dr. Stevenson said. Women can often get back to regular life after receiving care, and treatment is typically covered by insurance.

Pelvic health concerns may cause problems for women when they are exercising, standing, walking or even sitting, sneezing or laughing.

There are three primary forms of incontinence, and they can vary in type and severity:

  • Urge incontinence or overactive bladder is characterized by the urgent and frequent need to urinate.
  • Stress incontinence may result from sneezing, coughing or physical activities.
  • Bowel incontinence is the involuntary leaking of stool.

Incontinence of any form should not be accepted as a normal part of the birthing or aging process. Sadly, far too many women suffer in silence.

"Patients who experience incontinence often limit their activities, which affects quality of life and can be socially isolating," said Sarit Aschkenazi, MD, a ProHealth Medical Group urogynecologist. "Fortunately, there are simple and easily manageable treatments for incontinence."

Pelvic organ prolapse usually occurs in women who have given birth. It is easily diagnosed with a pelvic examination. While symptoms may come on quickly, they often develop gradually over time. Prolapse is generally accompanied by a vaginal bulge, pelvic pressure or heaviness. Symptoms are usually more noticeable when women are standing or active. Some women also experience a change in bowel and bladder function.

Vaginal dryness is also a common problem for women, especially as they age or if they have breast cancer and are being treated with hormone therapy. The good news is that dryness can be effectively treated.

If you have a pelvic health concern you should:

  1. Share your symptoms and their impact with your primary care provider.
  2. Schedule a pelvic health exam.
  3. Discuss your medical history, health care preferences and health goals with your provider so a personalized treatment plan can be developed.

A number of treatments exist for pelvic floor disorders, giving you and your care team options. Nonsurgical treatment may be provided by your primary care provider or you may be referred to a urogynecologist for consultation and specialized care.