Common Digestive Conditions

Your Pelvic Floor and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

The pelvic floor is the name given to the hammock-like structure of muscles and ligaments that support the pelvic organs.

In women, the pelvic organs include from front to back, the bladder, uterus, vagina and the rectum. In men the organs are the bladder, prostate and rectum. The pelvic floor plays a vital role in coordinating and controlling urination, passage of a bowel motion and supporting the reproductive organs.

Problems with the pelvic floor are collectively known as Pelvic Floor Dysfunction (PFD). PFD occurs when the pelvic floor becomes weakened or injured and loses its elasticity, which can then affect urinary, bowel or sexual function. 

These conditions are often very embarrassing for people to discuss, even with their doctor, and many people suffer in silence for years. PFD can have a hugely negative effect on quality of life and can limit someone’s ability to exercise and engage in normal social activities. Women are far more likely to be affected by PFD than men due to the potential effects of pregnancy and childbirth (stretching of the pelvic floor muscles and possibly to anal sphincter damage) and menopause in later life, on the pelvic floor muscles.

Pelvic Floor Diagram

What are the symptoms of PFD? 

  • Pelvic pain
  • A sensation of ‘something coming down’ or pressure in the pelvic area
  • Difficulty controlling bowel motions / faecal incontinence or controlling passage of gas / wind
  • A feeling of a blockage when trying to pass a bowel motion
  • A feeling of incompletely emptying the rectum – “I never feel like I have fully emptied my bowel”
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Pain during sexual intercourse

What can be done to help PFD? 

The first thing you can do is to talk to your doctor about the problem as it is unlikely to go away by itself. If you feel that you have symptoms to suggest any of these conditions and they are causing significant discomfort / distress, you should make an appointment to see your GP / Family Doctor to discuss them. 

Referral to a specialist will likely be required and depending on your main symptoms, this could be a gastroenterologist, a colorectal surgeon, a gynaecologist (if the main symptoms seem gynaecological) or a urologist if the main symptoms relate to problems passing urine. Sometimes medications can help, certain types of pelvic floor physiotherapy and a treatment called Biofeedback therapy can be of great help. Less commonly, surgery may be helpful, but only in a minority of cases.

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