At the University of Chicago Medicine Center for Pelvic Health, women and men of all ages benefit from the combined expertise of a team of subspecialists, whose depth of expertise is unique in the region.
Our team includes specialists in urogynecology, urology, gastroenterology, colorectal surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, radiology, physical therapy and nursing. Many of our physicians are nationally recognized for their commitment to diagnosing and treating pelvic floor disorders, including urinary incontinence, overactive bladder, fecal incontinence, pelvic floor dysfunction, rectal prolapse, defecatory disorders and pelvic organ prolapse.
Both men and women have a pelvic floor. In women, the pelvic floor is the muscles, ligaments, connective tissues and nerves that support the bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum, all of which help these pelvic organs function. In men, the pelvic floor includes the muscles, tissues and nerves that support the bladder, rectum and other pelvic organs.
For many people, particularly women, the pelvic floor does not work as well as it should. Almost one-quarter of women have pelvic floor disorders, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Coordinated, Personalized Care
Together, our specialists provide a full range of coordinated diagnostic and therapeutic services, delivered in a caring, sensitive manner. Patients receive care that is tailored to their individual needs and preferences.
What We Treat:
Pelvic floor disorders occur when the "sling" or "hammock" that supports the pelvic organs becomes weak or damaged. The three main types of pelvic floor disorders are:
Urinary incontinence, or lack of bladder control
Fecal incontinence, or lack of bowel control
Pelvic organ prolapse, a condition in which the uterus, bladder and bowel may "drop" within the vagina and cause a bulge through the vaginal canal
People with pelvic floor disorders may experience:
Urinary problems, such as urinary incontinence, an urgent need to urinate, painful urination or incomplete emptying of their bladder
Constipation, straining or pain during bowel movements
Pain or pressure in the vagina or rectum
A heavy feeling in the pelvis or a bulge in the vagina or rectum
Muscle spasms in the pelvis
Childbirth is one of the main causes of pelvic floor disorders in women. Other contributing factors include menopause, prior surgery or pelvic radiation, heavy lifting and straining, obesity, congenitally weak connective tissue and aging.
A National Institutes of Health study found that pelvic floor disorders become more common as women age, affecting approximately:
- 10 percent of women ages 20 to 39
- 27 percent of women ages 40 to 59
- 37 percent of women ages 60 to 79
- Nearly half of women age 80 or older
While pelvic floor disorders become more common as women get older, they are not a normal or acceptable part of aging. These problems can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. Fortunately, these disorders often can be improved or reversed with treatment.
Pelvic pain is discomfort that occurs in the lower abdomen below the belly button. More common in women than in men, pelvic pain can be a sign of other health problems, some of which may be serious.
In women, pelvic pain may be caused by:
- Endometriosis, a condition in which the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows on the ovaries, bladder or other organs
- Chronic pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection that affects the female reproductive organs
- Fibroids, which are noncancerous tumors that grow in the uterus
- Bladder pain syndrome or interstitial cystitis, an inflammation of the bladder that may cause urinary urgency or pelvic pain
Other causes of pelvic pain in men and women include digestive diseases, such as colitis, diverticulosis and diverticulitis.
If you have pelvic pain, see a doctor who treats these problems regularly. Many treatments are available to help reduce your discomfort. And if left untreated, pelvic pain could lead to a more serious problem.
Treatment can have a dramatic effect on pelvic floor dysfunction. For most people, this usually involves:
- Behavior changes, such as avoiding pushing or straining when urinating and having a bowel movement and drinking appropriate types and amounts of liquid
- Trying various approaches, such as warm baths and yoga, for relaxing the muscles in the pelvic floor area.
- Medicines, such as low doses of muscle relaxants like diazepam
- Physical therapy and biofeedback, which can help you learn how to relax and coordinate the movement of your pelvic floor muscles
A variety of experts can treat these problems and, often, a team of different experts provides the best outcome for patients. At the UChicago Medicine Center for Pelvic Health, women and men are treated by a multidisciplinary team of specialists that includes:
- Urogynecologists, or obstetrician/gynecologists who specialize in the care of women with pelvic floor disorders
- Urologists, who specialize in the treatment of urinary disorders in women and men
- Colorectal surgeons, who provide surgical treatment of the digestive system
- Gastroenterologists, who treat the digestive system
- Plastic and reconstructive surgeons, who use advanced reconstructive techniques to rebuild damaged tissues in the pelvis
- Physical therapists, who can help women and men learn exercises to improve their symptoms
- Radiologists, who perform advanced studies to determine the cause of pelvic floor disorders
- Nurses, who are often the first line of contact for patients and can help coordinate care through the Center for Pelvic Health
Many people don’t feel comfortable talking about personal topics like pelvic floor disorders and symptoms such as incontinence. But these are actually very common medical problems that can be treated successfully. Millions of people have the same issues, but many don’t seek treatment and compromise their quality of life.
If you have a pelvic health issue, don’t hesitate to learn more about your treatment options. If your doctor doesn’t treat these issues regularly, seek out an expert. The UChicago Medicine Center for Pelvic Health includes urologists, urogynecologists and other caregivers who treat their patients with dignity and compassion.