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Incontinence & Overactive Bladder Health Center

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1/4 of Women Have Pelvic Floor Disorder

Older Women, Overweight Women Have Higher Risk
By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 16, 2008 -- Nearly a quarter of women have a pelvic floor disorder, which can be incontinence (urinary or fecal) or pelvic organ prolapse (when the uterus or another pelvic organ drops from its usual position and pushes against the walls of the vagina.)

The older a women gets, the higher her chance of a pelvic floor disorder. The likelihood of a pelvic floor disorder is higher for women who are overweight or obese and for women who have given birth.

A new study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, aims to assess the prevalence of pelvic floor disorders. Researchers used data on 1,961 women from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The women, all at least 20 years old and not pregnant, were asked questions about pelvic floor disorder symptoms and also received standardized physical examinations, including height and weight.

The researchers focused on moderate to severe urinary incontinence, which was defined as at least weekly leakage or monthly leakage of more than a few drops. Fecal incontinence was defined as at least monthly leakage of solid, liquid, or mucus stool. To determine if a participant had symptomatic pelvic organ prolapse, researchers asked, "Do you experience bulging or something falling out you can see or feel in the vaginal area?"

Pelvic Floor Disorders Prevalent

Overall, 23.7% of women reported symptoms of at least one pelvic floor disorder. Urinary incontinence was the most common, followed by fecal incontinence.

As women age, the likelihood of a pelvic floor disorder increases:

  • Of the women aged 20 to 39, 9.7% had at least one pelvic floor disorder.
  • Of the women aged 40 to 59, 26.5% had at least one pelvic floor disorder.
  • Of the women aged 60 to 79, 36.8% reported one pelvic floor disorder.
  • Of the women aged 80 and older, 49.7% reported one pelvic floor disorder.

Because aging increases the likelihood of a pelvic floor disorder, the condition is going to be a bigger concern for society as a whole, the researchers write.

"By 2030, more than one-fifth of women will be 65 years or older," the researchers write. "As the population of older women increases, the national burden related to pelvic floor disorders in terms of health care costs, lost productivity, and decreased quality of life will be substantial."

Overweight women also have a greater chance of having at least one pelvic disorder. Prevalence was 15.1% for underweight/normal weight, 26.3% for overweight women, and 30.4% for obese women.

Also, the more children a participant had given birth to, the higher her likelihood of a pelvic floor disorder.

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