Half of all women in the United States have never talked with their physicians about care, management or treatment of pelvic health conditions. Embarrassing bladder “accidents,” irregular periods and uncomfortable intercourse are just some of the pelvic health issues women of all ages can experience.
Pelvic health includes care of the female reproductive system, the pelvis and the pelvic floor. The female reproductive system includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix and vagina. The pelvis — hip bones in front and sacrum and coccyx in back — protects the reproductive, urinary and digestive systems. The pelvic floor is a term used to describe the muscles, ligaments and connective tissues that support the bowel, bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum.
Keeping perimenopause in balance
Perimenopause is a transition phase into menopause during which changes begin to occur in a woman’s body. Women might experience irregular menstruation, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, vaginal dryness, mood swings, irritability or depression. Because symptoms can be subtle and come on gradually, many women don’t realize they are connected to perimenopause.
Being patient with fibroids
Uterine fibroids are benign (noncancerous) growths in the wall of the uterus. More than 75 percent of women have small fibroids, but only about 30 percent have fibroids large enough to be discovered during a regular pelvic examination. Of these, about 80 percent will have no symptoms and require no treatment — just watchful waiting. Common symptoms include heavy menstrual bleeding, prolonged menstrual periods and pelvic pressure or pain. The exact cause of fibroids is unknown. The risk of fibroids is increased in women who are age 25 to 35, obese or African American, or who have a family history of fibroids. Medications and procedural and surgical options are available to shrink and remove fibroids if necessary.
Managing urinary incontinence
Approximately 80 percent of those experiencing urinary incontinence can be cured or at least have their symptoms improved. Treatments include medications to calm the bladder, urethral inserts and pessaries. Several surgical options are also available. Women with incontinence issues should talk with their physician about treatment options and at-home solutions that can be paired with treatment.
Resolving sexual concerns
Sexual dysfunction is broadly defined as the inability to fully enjoy sexual intercourse. Health problems that may interfere with a healthy sex life include loss of lubrication and elasticity of vaginal tissues due to lower estrogen levels, which can make intercourse painful. Loss of muscle tone may contribute to urinary incontinence. Low estrogen levels may leave women more vulnerable to urinary or vaginal infections. Help is available — you are never too old to enjoy a full sexual life.
DON’T believe pelvic health disorders are:
- A normal part of aging
- An inevitable consequence of childbirth
- An acceptable consequence of changes due to menopause
DO take action with your physician to:
- Discuss your symptoms
- Know your risk factors
- Undergo any necessary tests and screenings
- Learn about your treatment options avoiding.