CHICAGO (Reuters) - Nearly one quarter of all U.S. women have some sort of pelvic floor disorder such as urinary or fecal incontinence, and more cases are likely as the population ages, researchers said on Tuesday.
Urinary incontinence or loss of bladder control is by far the most common problem, and childbirth, which can weaken pelvic floor muscles, is the most frequent cause.
“What stands out is such a large number of women had symptoms of a moderate-to-severe pelvic floor disorder,” said Dr. Ingrid Nygaard of the University of Utah, whose study appears in Journal of the American Medical Association.
“We know many women leak urine once in a blue moon if they are doing strenuous exercise. That such a large number leaks on a regular basis was surprising to see,” she said by telephone.
Nygaard’s team studied 1,961 nonpregnant women aged 20 and older who were part of a national health survey in 2005-2006. They were examined for symptoms of urinary and fecal incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, in which an organ such as the bladder drops and pushes against the walls of the vagina.
Overall, 23.7 percent of women reported symptoms of at least one pelvic floor disorder. Of these, 15.7 percent had urinary incontinence, 9 percent had fecal incontinence and 2.9 percent had pelvic organ prolapse, in which women reported seeing or feeling a vaginal bulge.
Age plays a major role, with just 10 percent of women 20 to 39 reporting at least one disorder, compared with about a quarter of women 40 to 59, 37 percent of women 60 to 79, and nearly half of women 80 and older.
Women were considered to have urinary incontinence if they had at least weekly leakage, or monthly leakage of volumes of more than just a few drops.
If women with occasional leakage were included, the numbers might be much higher, the researchers said.
“The study results underscore the need to identify the causes of pelvic floor disorders and the means to prevent and treat them,” Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a statement.
Treatments for urinary stress incontinence — the kind linked with laughing, coughing, sneezing or exercise — range from exercises to surgical options.
Urge incontinence or overactive bladder can be treated by lifestyle changes and a number of drugs, including tolterodine or Detrol made by Pfizer Inc; Vesicare or solifenacin made by GlaxoSmithKline and Astellas Pharma Inc; and Enablex or darifenacin by Novartis AG.
Editing by Maggie Fox and Mohammad Zargham