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, which you can learn more about below.
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 the 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 cases, 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.