UK HealthCare

You don’t have to live with pelvic pain

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Johnnie Wright, Jr. M.D., Division Director, Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at UK HealthCare. Photo provided by UK HealthCare.

The University of Kentucky Public Relations and Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week's column is by Johnnie Wright Jr., M.D., Division Director, Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at UK HealthCare.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 28, 2024) — Pelvic health is crucial to a woman’s overall well-being but is often misunderstood or overlooked. When symptoms such as urinary incontinence, pain or discomfort, or pain during intercourse occur, they are dismissed as a byproduct of pregnancy and childbirth or just something that comes with age like arthritis. But those symptoms can have a profound effect on a woman’s physical, emotional and social well-being and can lead to more serious complications if untreated.

One of the most common conditions is pelvic organ prolapse. This condition occurs when the muscles, ligaments and fascia of the pelvic floor weaken, causing one or more of the pelvic organs – uterus, vagina, bladder or bowel – bulges into or out of the vagina.

Symptoms of prolapse include:

  • A heavy dragging feeling in the vagina or lower back
  • Feeling of a lump in the vagina or outside the vagina
  • Urinary symptoms such as slow urinary stream, a feeling of incomplete bladder emptying, urinary frequency, urgency and urinary stress incontinence
  • Bowel symptoms, such as difficulty moving the bowel or a feeling of not emptying properly
  • Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse

Prolapse occurs in one of three women who have had one or more children. Prolapse can occur immediately after childbirth or take years to develop. Aging and menopause can lead to further weakening of the pelvic floor. While prolapse is common, only one in nine women need corrective surgery. Obesity, chronic cough, chronic constipation and heavy lifting or straining can put excessive pressure on the pelvic floor and exacerbate prolapse. Depression and anxiety are linked to urinary dysfunction; someone who feels they no longer can control their bladder may withdraw and become more socially isolated.

Physical therapy can help restore strength and function to the pelvic floor. Light-intensity exercises such as walking and yoga can stretch and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, and there are a number of free apps with exercises for maintaining continence and preventing prolapse.

If you are experiencing pelvic pain or urinary issues such as urgency or a feeling of not completely emptying the bladder, talk to your primary care provider about a referral to a urogynecologist to discuss treatment options.

UK HealthCare is the hospitals and clinics of the University of Kentucky. But it is so much more. It is more than 10,000 dedicated health care professionals committed to providing advanced subspecialty care for the most critically injured and ill patients from the Commonwealth and beyond. It also is the home of the state’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that cares for the tiniest and sickest newborns, the region’s only Level 1 trauma center and Kentucky’s top hospital ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

As an academic research institution, we are continuously pursuing the next generation of cures, treatments, protocols and policies. Our discoveries have the potential to change what’s medically possible within our lifetimes. Our educators and thought leaders are transforming the health care landscape as our six health professions colleges teach the next generation of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals, spreading the highest standards of care. UK HealthCare is the power of advanced medicine committed to creating a healthier Kentucky, now and for generations to come.