The Center for Pelvic Health at The GW Medical Faculty Associates is a unique program where urologists, colorectal surgeons and gynecologists work together to treat bladder and bowel control problems. Patients are active participants in attaining an accurate diagnosis and determining the best treatment program to meet their needs.
The multi-disciplinary team of specialists treats the full range of incontinence problems, including complex cases. Problems with incontinence can be difficult to identify. The Center for Pelvic Health’s unique approach combines the knowledge of physicians from different specialties to diagnose problems and offer customized treatment options. After treatment patients can expect to return to daily life activities with confidence.
Restoring Bladder and Bowel Control
The loss of bladder or bowel control is more than embarrassing. Uncontrolled leaks of urine or feces make maintaining good hygiene and a normal lifestyle a challenge. While millions of women and men experience incontinence, many people suffer in silence. Many believe the loss of control is a normal part of aging, or the only available treatment options require painful surgery.
Incontinence can affect people of all ages, but it is more common in women. A range of treatment options are available, including therapies that don’t require surgery. The right combination of physicians can provide an accurate diagnosis and lead to the most appropriate treatments to restore bladder and bowel function.
What Causes Disorders of the Pelvic Floor?
The muscles and connective tissue that supports the pelvic organs—the bladder, bowel, rectum and urethra—are called the pelvic floor. This sling of muscles and tissue are designed to support the pelvic organs throughout an individual’s life. When the pelvic floor becomes weaken or injured, the result can be embarrassing leakage, loss of bladder and bowel control, and also pelvic organ prolapse.
Specialists with The GW Medical Faculty Associates Center for Pelvic Health treat the broad range of conditions and disorders that cause problems with bladder and bowel control:
Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control. Symptoms can range from small urine leaks to a complete emptying of the bladder. Most bladder control problems occur when muscles are weak or overactive. When muscles are weak, pressure from a laugh, cough or sneeze can trigger an embarrassing loss of control. With overactive bladder, uncontrolled contractions of the bladder muscles create a sudden urge to urinate that cannot be stopped. Urinary incontinence affects women and men of all ages, but is more common in women. Women may develop incontinence after pregnancy and childbirth. Men may experience urinary incontinence following surgery or radiation treatment for prostate, bladder and colorectal cancers.
Anal incontinence is the inability to control passage of bowel movements or air. While it can affect men and women of all ages, it is more common in women. Causes of anal incontinence include constipation, damage to the ring of muscles that keep the anus closed, and loss of storage capacity in the rectum, diarrhea, and pelvic floor dysfunction.
Constipation refers to bowel movements that are infrequent or hard to pass. The need to strain more than fifty percent of the time when having bowel movements, bloating and abdominal pain are symptoms of constipation. Causes can range from dietary deficiencies and side effects from medication, to a lack of proper nerve and muscle function.
Overactive bladder is when the bladder muscle involuntarily contracts, causing a sudden urge to urinate. This strong sensation is more frequent than usual, and patients may have difficulty getting to the bathroom in time. The disorder may be associated with incontinence.
Pelvic Organ Prolapse
Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when the pelvic muscles and tissue weaken and can no longer support a woman’s pelvic organs. The uterus, bladder or rectum lose elasticity and descend or bulge into the vagina, causing pressure in the lower abdomen, urinary or fecal incontinence, constipation or diminished sexual function. In extreme causes the pelvic organs can drop through the vaginal opening.
Causes may including stretching during pregnancy and childbirth, pelvic injury associated with the abdominal pressure of coughing, heavy lifting, constipation, pelvic surgery, neurological injury, obesity, menopause and hormonal deprivation or medications.
When the area between the rectum and vagina, known as the rectovaginal septum, becomes thin and weakens, the rectum may bulge into the vagina.
With cystocele, or bladder prolapse, the muscles at the base of the bladder become thin and weak, causing the bladder to fall down into the vagina. Much like rectocele, it is common among women with weak pelvic floor muscles.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia and Urinary Retention
An enlarged prostate may cause urinary symptoms such as frequency of urination, awakening through the night to urinate and an inability to empty the bladder. This can significantly affect a man’s quality of life.