Do you ever leak when you laugh or sneeze, or have an accident when you can’t reach a restroom in time? As the clinical nurse navigator for the Roper St. Francis Pelvic Health Center, I work with many patients whose quality of life is impaired because of these issues. Many of those who are affected by pelvic health symptoms isolate themselves to avoid embarrassing situations. The good news is that there is help. And, if you’re one of those people, you are not alone.
More than 13 million Americans experience urinary incontinence and about half that amount suffer from fecal incontinence. Another issue known as over-active bladder affects more than 30 million in the U.S. Others suffer from constipation, pelvic pain, organ prolapse or pelvic muscle weakness. Those who experience these conditions often feel too embarrassed to get help and live with a diminished quality of life. The honest news is that these symptoms can happen to anyone at any age.
On my first day in this role, a patient in her early 50’s came to me in tears. She admitted that she talked to no one about her issues with incontinence and refrained from socializing. She knew that this was a problem but didn’t know how to talk about it because it’s an embarrassing subject.
Depending on the patient case, treatment options can vary. This particular patient met with the Pelvic Health multidisciplinary team to learn more. She increased her fiber intake and added exercise to her every day routines. Today she is confident, happy and back to playing tennis and golf.
So what is a pelvic issue?
Pelvic muscles can become stretched or weakened for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s due to heredity but stretching and weakening of muscles can also be a result of childbirth or aging. One in three adult women experience pelvic issues in their lifetime. The tough news is that if not addressed, poor pelvic health can impact regular activities such as sleeping, sex and exercise.
Where can you find help?
Talk to your primary care physician. While this can be a difficult subject to talk about, your doctor can guide you in the right direction. Roper St. Francis has taken the lead in promoting pelvic health by implementing a program to help with issues such as fecal and urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, prolapse of bladder, rectum or vagina and weakness of the pelvic floor muscles.
Don’t be afraid of meeting with a specialist – surgery is not always needed. Some of these issues can be remedied with education, diet and exercise. Treatment options include working with a physical therapist on pelvic exercises, biofeedback or pelvic muscle retraining for constipation, incontinence or overactive bladder.
Making a plan.
While this is a topic many don’t want to talk about, there is help. The Roper St. Francis Pelvic Health Center Clinic is held the first and third Fridays of the month at Mount Pleasant Hospital in the Medical Office Building. Patients interested in this treatment can be referred by their primary care physician, a specialist or make a special appointment. The physician specialists at the clinic include a colorectal surgeon, gynecologist and urologist.