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Incontinent? You're Not Alone

By Shana Potash, Staff Writer, NLM

It may not be a topic women are quick to discuss, but a new study finds almost one quarter of U.S. women experience pelvic floor disorders.

The term "pelvic floor" refers to the group of muscles that form a sling across the opening of a woman's pelvis. These muscles, together with their surrounding tissues, keep all of the pelvic organs in place so that the organs can function correctly.

A pelvic floor disorder occurs when the pelvic muscles and connective tissue in the pelvis weaken or are injured. The three main disorders are urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse, which happens when the muscles become so weak they can't hold pelvic organs in place.

NCHS-funded researchers used data from a national survey of nearly 2,000 women who were age 20 and older and were not pregnant. Nearly 24 percent said they had symptoms of at least one pelvic disorder; nearly 16 percent reported urinary incontinence; 9 percent had fecal incontinence; and nearly 3 percent had symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse.

The study found that pelvic floor disorders increase with age and are more common in women who are overweight or obese and women who have given birth.

Treatment possibilities include lifestyle changes, pelvic muscle exercises, vaginal medical devices to hold up pelvic organs, medications, and surgery. The study was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH), all at the NIH, and by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For more information, visit and type "incontinence" in the search box.

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Fall 2008 Issue: Volume 3 Number 4 Pages 27 - 28