Just under one quarter of women in the United States have at least one of the three primary pelvic floor disorders—urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse—according to the first analysis to document national prevalence estimates of these conditions.

Researchers from the NIH’s Pelvic Floor Disorders Network also found that the frequency of these disorders increases with age, weight, and the number of times a woman has given birth.

These findings were derived by gathering information from 1,961 women, aged 20 years and older, who participated in the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. After the women were interviewed and examined, the researchers learned that 23.7% had at least one pelvic floor disorder. Among the affected women, 15.7% experienced urinary incontinence, 9% had fecal incontinence, and 2.9% suffered from pelvic organ prolapse (a collapsing onto the vagina of such pelvic organs as the uterus, bladder, and bowel).

Continue Reading

But the investigators say that even this high rate is likely an underestimate because they only considered symptomatic women, not those who had already been successfully treated for pelvic floor disorders, and because they used conservative definitions to diagnose patients. In addition, symptom-based diagnosis of pelvic organ prolapse underestimates the true prevalence of the condition diagnosed on physical examination. Pelvic floor disorders may well be even more common than these findings reflect.

“Given the burden pelvic floor disorders place on U.S. women and the health-care system, research is needed to further understand their pathophysiology, prevention, and treatment,” the researchers state (JAMA. 2008;300:1311-1316).