Pelvic floor disorders are a group of conditions characterized by weakness and sagging of the bladder, uterus, vaginal walls and other surrounding tissues. About one in four women is affected by these disorders, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Pregnancy and childbirth can often cause these conditions, especially in women who had a difficult delivery or delivered a larger baby. They are also more common in older women, affecting more than 40 percent of women between the ages of 60 and 79, and about 50 percent of women 80 and older. As women age, years of lifting and other strenuous activities, along with the decline in hormones that comes with menopause, can take a toll on these tissues. Other women may simply be more prone to these disorders and unable to pinpoint a specific cause.
Symptoms of pelvic floor disorders include pain and discomfort in the pelvic area, pain during intercourse and incontinence. Women may experience bladder leaks during exercise or when they laugh, cough or sneeze.
While pelvic floor disorders are very common, many women do not seek treatment — especially older women. They may be ashamed or view their symptoms as a part of the aging process and choose to wear incontinence pads and adult diapers rather than mention it to their doctors. Generally, younger women won't tolerate the symptoms and will often approach their physicians with their own research into possible solutions.
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One of the common treatments for pelvic floor disorders is synthetic transvaginal mesh. These treatments, however, were developed for hernias in the abdominal wall, not specifically for vaginal use, and can cause serious complications for many patients, including erosion, infection, bleeding and pain.
The latest advancement in procedures to treat pelvic floor disorders is the biologic patch, which encourages tissue to regenerate using the patient's own stem cells. This has proven to be a much safer and more effective approach than synthetic mesh, which relies on scar formation. In fact, many women who have experienced complications with synthetic mesh are now having it removed and replaced with biologic patches.
Another treatment is known as the Burch procedure, in which the surgeon places sutures to suspend the sagging bladder. This can be done with robot-assisted surgery, a type of laparoscopic surgery that results in fewer complications and reduced recovery time.