Women too embarrassed to seek help for pelvic floor problems
Six in ten women are struggling with pelvic floor problems, with many too embarrassed to seek help, medics say.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) said far too many women were left to put up with distressing symptoms, especially after childbirth.
Experts called for far more advice and support to be given to women at every stage of life, with girls taught about the matter from an early age.
Women who suffered debilitating symptoms such as urinary incontinence told how they were dismissed by medics, who suggested such problems were inevitable after childbirth, rather than offering help.
A poll commissioned by the college found just one in five women in the UK regularly perform exercises to maintain their pelvic floor health.
Weak pelvic floor muscles can cause incontinence, while tight ones can make it difficult to empty the bladder. There are exercises which can be performed to help strengthen these muscles, which can help the bladder work well.
But the poll found more than half of women do not do them, while a quarter do not know how.
Symptom of poor pelvic health
RCOG said girls should learn about their pelvic floor health from a young age and support should be made available throughout their lives.
Their poll of 2,000 women found that some 60 percent of women have at least one symptom of poor pelvic health, such as urinary incontinence or a frequent need to urinate.
The new policy paper said the NHS needs to do far more to provide support after pregnancy and childbirth, and provide advice to reduce risks.
It also calls for national guidance to identify those at greatest risk of problems.
Women should be given information on how maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and reducing or stopping smoking, as well as practising pelvic floor exercises, can prevent and reduce symptoms of a weak pelvic floor, the RCOG said.
More than half of the women who had experienced symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction did not seek help from a healthcare professional, according to the survey of 2,000 UK women by Opinium on behalf of the RCOG.
Of these, 39 per cent thought their symptoms were normal and 21 per cent were too embarrassed.
Emma Crookes, a member of the RCOG Women’s Network, who started suffering incontinence during pregnancy, said: “When I started leaking urine from quite an early stage of pregnancy in my 20s, I was shocked and embarrassed and wanted to hide away.
“I was told by friends, the media and even my GP that it’s completely normal, it’s what happens when you have children.
“It was only by a chance meeting with a specialist that I had the courage to go back to my GP and demand better help.
“By the time I was referred to a pelvic floor physiotherapist and urogynaecology services, I was suffering with a vaginal wall prolapse and urinary stress incontinence.
“With pelvic floor muscle training and weeks of intense personalised exercises and support, my symptoms improved and I was able to get back to my usual routine.”
Last year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence said that girls as young as 12 should be taught about pelvic floor exercises as part of the school curriculum.
Nice said girls aged 12 to 17 should be given lessons about the pelvic floor, including its anatomy, possibly as an addition to classes on sex and relationships.