For a lot of people, the word pelvis calls to mind Elvis Presley, crooning “Hound Dog” and swinging his hips. But for others, the word pelvis can call to mind discomfort, pain, and embarrassment.
That’s because pelvic floor disorders (PFDs) affect millions of Americans. But you can take steps to lower your risk for these problems and keep Elvis as your main pelvis-related association.
While PFDs can occur in both men and women, they are most common among older females. In fact, about one-third of women in the U.S. have a PFD.
The most common PFDs are:
Pelvic organ prolapse, which occurs when a woman’s pelvic muscles are no longer able to support the organs in her pelvic region. These organs include the bladder, urethra, rectum, uterus, and vagina.
Bladder problems—or urinary incontinence—which may occur due to a cough, a sneeze, or other factors affecting the bladder muscles that cause urine to leak out.
Bowel control problems—or fecal incontinence—which can happen when the anal sphincter is damaged or weakened, causing stool to leak out of the rectum.
In general, a PFD happens when the pelvic muscles and connective tissues are weakened or injured. Some possible contributors to the development of a PFD include:
Pregnancy and vaginal childbirth
Being overweight or obese
You may not be able to avoid some of these risk factors (such as aging), and you may choose not to avoid some others (such as pregnancy). But you can still take steps that may lower your risk for PFDs:
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of developing a PFD.
Eat a healthy diet. Be sure to include lots of fluids and plenty of high-fiber foods. This can keep your bowels functioning normally, preventing constipation. Preventing constipation can help reduce the risk for pelvic floor issues.
Avoid tobacco. People who smoke may develop a chronic cough, which puts stress on the abdomen. If you smoke, talk with your healthcare provider about getting help to quit.
Work out your pelvic floor. Pelvic floor exercises, or Kegel exercises, help keep pelvic floor muscles toned, decreasing your risk of developing a PFD. To do Kegel exercises, squeeze the muscles you would use if you were trying to stop yourself from peeing. Pull in these pelvic muscles and hold for 3 seconds, then relax for 3 seconds. Work your way up to 10 repetitions of this, 3 times a day.
If you do develop a PFD, there are treatments available, including medicines and surgeries. Women can be treated by urogynecologists—doctors with special training in PFDs. But if you take the steps outlined above, you may be able to avoid PFDs. So, don’t wait—it’s now or never.