What causes pelvic floor disorders?

The complete picture about what contributes to the development of pelvic floor problems is not clear, but the following conditions are being studied as possible contributors:

  • Pregnancy and childbirth. Going through pregnancy and childbirth and the relation to pelvic floor problems has been an active area of research, but the contribution is not clear. In some studies, the risk increases with the number of children a woman has.1The risk may be greater if forceps or a vacuum device is used during delivery.2 However, because pelvic problems also affect women who have never been pregnant, and because delivering via cesarean section (C-section) does not eliminate the risk of pelvic floor problems, the relationship among pregnancy, childbirth, and PFDs remains unknown .2, 3
  • Factors that put pressure on the pelvic floor. These factors include being overweight or obese, chronic constipation and straining to have a bowel movement, and chronic coughing from smoking or health problems.4
  • Getting older. The pelvic floor can weaken as women age. However, this weakening does not occur for all women, leading many researchers to believe it may not be a natural part of aging, but rather due to other contributors.4
  • Having weaker tissues. Genes and race influence the strength of a woman’s bones, muscles, and connective tissues. Women born with genetically weaker tissues are more likely to have pelvic organ prolapse. African-American women may have a lower risk of pelvic organ prolapse than do women of other races.4
  • Radiation treatment. Radiation therapy for endometrial, cervical, or other types of cancer in a woman’s pelvic region can damage pelvic floor muscles and tissues.
  • Surgery. Hysterectomy (pronounced his-tuh-REK-tuh-mee) and prior surgery to correct prolapse increase the risk of PFDs.4

  1. Patel, D. A., Xu, X., Thomason, A. D., Ransom, S. B., Ivy, J. S., & DeLancey, J. O. (2006). Childbirth and pelvic floor dysfunction: An epidemiologic approach to the assessment of prevention opportunities at delivery. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 195, 23-28.
  2. Handa, V. L., Blomquist, J. L., Knoepp, L. R., Hoskey, K. A., McDermott, K. C., & Munoz, A. (2011). Pelvic floor disorders 5-10 years after vaginal or cesarean childbirth. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 118, 777-784.
  3. Borello-France, D., Burgio, K. L., Richter, H. E., Zyczynski, H., Fitzgerald, M. P., Whitehead, W., et al. (2006). Fecal and urinary incontinence in primiparous women. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 108, 863-872.
  4. American Urogynecologic Society. (2008). Pelvic organ prolapse. Retrieved May 16, 2012, from http://www.voicesforpfd.org/p/cm/ld/fid=6 External Web Site Policy

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