Many options exist for treating pelvic health conditions
If your arm hurts, the first thing you might do is call your doctor to see what could be wrong. So why don’t we do this when it comes to pelvic health?
Kathy Ramirez, an advanced practice registered nurse with Lawrence Urology Specialists, said there’s no reason to be ashamed of pelvic health symptoms. She said if something isn’t right, you should call your health care provider and tell them.
“Don’t be ashamed about your symptoms,” Ramirez said. “You did not do anything wrong. This is a common health issue that many women and men can have.”
For women, pelvic health is a broad category that covers a variety of organs that are contained in the pelvis — the bladder, vagina, uterus, cervix and rectum.
“Pelvic health issues can certainly occur at any point in your life and can usually be well managed,” she said. “That being said, many women do not have issues prior to childbirth.”
Signs and symptoms
Pelvic floor symptoms such as bladder leaks, pain and sudden urges to use the restroom can keep you from enjoying your daily life. Common pelvic health concerns include:
• Bladder pain
• Incontinence when coughing, laughing or sneezing
• Pelvic pain during intercourse
• Pelvic prolapse — relaxation of the pelvic organs through the vagina
• Frequent, unexpected urges to use the restroom
Many women think incontinence is just a normal part of aging. But just because incontinence is common doesn’t mean you have to live with the discomfort. Ramirez said it’s important to talk to your health care provider if you are ever experiencing these kinds of symptoms.
“Don’t wait until you have to go to the emergency room for care,” she said. “Many problems can be managed and easily treated when they first become noticeable.”
One common misconception is that pelvic floor problems can only be fixed through surgery. Ramirez said pelvic floor disorders can be managed in other ways, as well, including physical therapy and medication.
Lauren Woodward, a physical therapist with Sunflower Pelvic Health, said pelvic health therapy can be a conservative option for problems like prolapses, incontinence and more.
“Though we only treat women at Sunflower Pelvic Health, pelvic health therapy can be a great option for men and women in helping with pelvic health problems,” she said. “When talking about pelvic health therapy, we want to focus on strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, lengthening the muscles for the tension that could have been built up and then learning how we can use those muscles more functionally.”
Woodward said pelvic health therapy is about more than just doing Kegel exercises.
“We will have patients come in and say, ‘well, doing Kegels didn’t work, so you probably can’t help me,'” she said. “Therapy is so much more than just doing Kegels; it really is about a whole-body approach. Even if Kegels are a part of your treatment plan, you may not have been doing them 100% correctly.”
If you’re interested in these specialized treatments, Woodward said the first step is to contact your primary care provider. She said pelvic health specialists and other providers can work together to assess patients and create a plan that’s right for them.
“We provide individualized care and make sure we walk alongside our patients,” Woodward said. “If the best first step is therapy, you will work with me for a few weeks. If that isn’t helping you improve, then we discuss more treatment options that could be best to help you reach your health goals.”
If surgery is the route that is best for your condition, it won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.
“There are multiple surgeries available at LMH Health to address a variety of pelvic health problems,” Ramirez said. “… (Your provider) will talk with you about your options and what procedure is best for your needs.”
When many people think of surgery, they think of long periods of down time and recovery. Ramirez said that recovery times are different for everyone, but that depending on the procedure it could take anywhere from 24 hours to six weeks.
“Having a procedure does not always mean you will be out of commission for a long period of time,” she said. “Again, procedures vary depending on your needs, but we utilize the da Vinci Surgical System for many of our procedures.”
This system, the da Vinci Xi, is a robotic tool that can perform minimally invasive surgery. Robotic surgery can often be done with shorter recovery times, less post-operative discomfort and less blood loss and scarring than more traditional surgeries.
Men live with pelvic health issues, too
We often talk about pelvic health for women, but men can also suffer from pelvic health problems like incontinence, weakened muscles, constipation and abdominal pain. Even though some of the issues are different, Ramirez said the same basic advice applies: If you have new or painful symptoms, you should contact your urologist or primary health care provider.
“Your health is important to us, and we want you to take care of yourself,” she said. “Do not wait until your only option is a trip to the emergency department to finally seek care. Stay healthy and know that we are here for you.”
— Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Journal-World’s Health section.