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Your vagina can (kind of) fall out — here’s what’s happening

Hold on to your hoohahs, ladies. Yes, seriously.

Catrina C. Crisp, M.D., a surgeon at Cincinnati Urogynecology Associates, said a recent study on women’s pelvic health shows that 20 percent of women nationwide have a lifetime risk for stress urinary incontinence (SUI) or pelvic organ prolapse (POP) — conditions that require surgery. That’s double the 11 percent figure reported in two other assessments.

Crisp is urging women to learn more about their pelvic health and seek help for conditions that were not commonly treated in the past. (The same way you take preventative measures to care for your breasts!)

Stress urinary incontinence is urinary leakage that happens due to coughing, sneezing and physical activity (yes, even during sex). Pelvic organ prolapse is a loss of supportive structures leading to bulging or pressure.

Here’s how much you should be concerned about these conditions: SUI and POP are higher than a woman’s risk for breast cancer (she says that’s 14.8 percent) and lung cancer (6.3 percent).

“Previous studies were smaller in size and limited geographically to women living in the Northwest area of the United States,” Crisp said. She said the new study covered a larger population of women across the country — about 10,000,000 in a database over a 25-year span.

“Women are beginning to become more aware of their body systems and understand that they don’t have to endure conditions their mothers and grandmothers lived with,” she said. “Women should now be empowered to stand up and say, ‘Yes, I have this problem,’ and get treatment.”

When should you worry?

Women suffer from a peak of pelvic floor symptoms at the age of 46, then again at age 70, the study reported. At age 46, most women are transitioning between childbearing and menopause — at 70, they are post-menopausal.

“We know that certain women are not overly symptomatic,” Crisp said. “But once they go through menopause, they start to develop more symptoms. Estrogen affects collagen, which affects muscle strength and overall support, and the amount of muscle you have atrophies with age. Because of all these things, women develop a weaker pelvic floor.”

Women delaying treatment… why?

Despite how common pelvic floor disorders are, the average American woman waits seven years before she seeks medical treatment for a pelvic health problem. Also, SUI and POP aren’t thought of as life-threatening — another reason why some women delay treatment.

“Women are very strong and tend to take care of everyone else in their families first,” said Crisp. “They keep on going until they are fed up with their symptoms — then seek care. Then they realize what a huge difference proper treatment makes for them.”

“These are not normally issues that may end your life prematurely,” she said. “But, they are health issues that can lead to larger issues. And usually insurance covers the majority of costs associated with medical evaluation and office procedures,” she said.

Up to 65 percent of women nationally suffer from some form of incontinence, overactive bladder or pelvic organ prolapse, with problems increasing after giving birth multiple times or because of the aging process.

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