Pelvic floor dysfunction

Pelvic floor dysfunction is an umbrella term for a variety of disorders that occur when pelvic floor muscles and ligaments are impaired. Symptoms include pelvic pain, pressure, pain during sex, incontinence, incomplete emptying, and visible organ protrusion.[1] Tissues surrounding the pelvic organs may have increased or decreased sensitivity or irritation resulting in pelvic pain. Underlying causes of pelvic pain are often difficult to determine.[2] The condition affects up to 50% of women who have given birth.[3]

Pelvic floor dysfunction
SpecialtyObstetrics and gynaecology

Pelvic floor dysfunction may include any of a group of clinical conditions that includes urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, sensory and emptying abnormalities of the lower urinary tract, defecatory dysfunction, sexual dysfunction and several chronic pain syndromes, including vulvodynia. The three most common and definable conditions encountered clinically are urinary incontinence, anal incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.


Mechanistically, the causes of pelvic floor dysfunction are two-fold: widening of the pelvic floor hiatus and descent of pelvic floor below the pubococcygeal line, with specific organ prolapse graded relative to the hiatus.[1] Associations include obesity, menopause, pregnancy and childbirth.[4] Some women may be more likely to developing pelvic floor dysfunction because of an inherited deficiency in their collagen type. Some women may have congenitally weak connective tissue and fascia and are therefore at risk of stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.[5]

By definition, postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction only affects women who have given birth, though pregnancy rather than birth or birth method is thought to be the cause. A study of 184 first-time mothers who delivered by Caesarean section and 100 who delivered vaginally found that there was no significant difference in the prevalence of symptoms 10 months following delivery, suggesting that pregnancy is the cause of incontinence for many women irrespective of their mode of delivery. The study also suggested that the changes which occur to the properties of collagen and other connective tissues during pregnancy may affect pelvic floor function.[6]

Pelvic floor dysfunction can result after treatment for gynegological cancers.[7]


Pelvic floor dysfunction can be diagnosed by history and physical exam, though it is more accurately graded by imaging. Historically, fluoroscopy with defecography and cystography were used, though modern imaging allows the usage of MRI to complement and sometimes replace fluoroscopic assessment of the disorder, allowing for less radiation exposure and increased patient comfort, though an enema is required the evening before the procedure. Instead of contrast, ultrasound gel is used during the procedure with MRI. Both methods assess the pelvic floor at rest and maximum strain using coronal and sagittal views. When grading individual organ prolapse, the rectum, bladder and uterus are individually assessed, with prolapse of the rectum referred to as a rectocele, bladder prolapse through the anterior vaginal wall a cystocele, and small bowel an enterocele.[8]

To assess the degree of dysfunction, three measurements must be taken into account. First, an anatomic landmark known as the pubococcygeal line must be determined, which is a straight line connecting the inferior margin of the pubic symphysis at the midline with the junction of the first and second coccygeal elements on a sagittal image. After this, the location of the puborectalis muscle sling is assessed, and a perpendicular line between the pubococcygeal line and muscle sling is drawn. This provides a measurement of pelvic floor descent, with descent greater than 2 cm being considered mild, and 6 cm being considered severe. Lastly, a line from the pubic symphysis to the puborectalis muscle sling is drawn, which is a measurement of the pelvic floor hiatus. Measurements of greater than 6 cm are considered mild, and greater than 10 cm severe. The degree of organ prolapse is assessed relative to the hiatus. The grading of organ prolapse relative to the hiatus is more strict, with any descent being considered abnormal, and greater than 4 cm being considered severe.[1]


Cystoceles are treated with a surgical procedure known as a Burch colposuspension, with the goal of suspending the prolapsed urethra so that the urethrovesical junction and proximal urethra are replaced in the pelvic cavity. Uteroceles are treated with hysterectomy and uterosacral suspension. With enteroceles, the prolapsed small bowel is elevated into the pelvis cavity and the rectovaginal fascia is reapproximated. Rectoceles, in which the anterior wall of the rectum protrudes into the posterior wall of the vagina, require posterior colporrhaphy.[5]


The condition is widespread, affecting up to 50 percent of women at some point in their lifetime.[1] About 11 percent of women will undergo surgery for urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse by age 80.[9] 30 percent of those undergoing surgery will have at least two surgeries in trying to correct the problem.

Some conditions are reversible, with pelvic floor exercises, or Kegel exercises recommended to strengthen the area muscles. Devices and probes are also available over the counter which purport to increase pelvic floor tone by stimulating muscle contractions with electrical impulses.


  1. Boyadzhyan, L; Raman, S. S.; Raz, S (2008). "Role of static and dynamic MR imaging in surgical pelvic floor dysfunction". RadioGraphics. 28 (4): 949–67. doi:10.1148/rg.284075139. PMID 18635623.
  2. "Pelvic Pain & Pelvic Floor Dysfunction".
  3. Hagen S, Stark D (2011). "Conservative prevention and management of pelvic organ prolapse in women". Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 12 (12): CD003882. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003882.pub4. PMID 22161382.
  4. Abbey Hospitals Gynaecology and Vaginal Repair information
  5. "Pelvic Floor Dysfunction Expanded Version | ASCRS". Retrieved 2017-12-02.
  6. Lal, M; h Mann, C; Callender, R; Radley, S (2003). "Does cesarean delivery prevent anal incontinence?". Obstetrics and Gynecology. 101 (2): 305–12. doi:10.1016/s0029-7844(02)02716-3. PMID 12576254.
  7. Ramaseshan, Aparna S.; Felton, Jessica; Roque, Dana; Rao, Gautam; Shipper, Andrea G.; Sanses, Tatiana V. D. (2017-09-19). "Pelvic floor disorders in women with gynecologic malignancies: a systematic review". International Urogynecology Journal. 29 (4): 459–476. doi:10.1007/s00192-017-3467-4. ISSN 0937-3462. PMID 28929201.
  8. El Sayed, R. F.; El Mashed, S; Farag, A; Morsy, M. M.; Abdel Azim, M. S. (2008). "Pelvic floor dysfunction: Assessment with combined analysis of static and dynamic MR imaging findings". Radiology. 248 (2): 518–30. doi:10.1148/radiol.2482070974. PMID 18574134.
  9. Fialkow, M. F.; Newton, K. M.; Lentz, G. M.; Weiss, N. S. (2008-03-01). "Lifetime risk of surgical management for pelvic organ prolapse or urinary incontinence". International Urogynecology Journal. 19 (3): 437–440. doi:10.1007/s00192-007-0459-9. ISSN 0937-3462. PMID 17896064.
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