An important survey completed in Australia asked if prenatal pelvic floor function and dysfunction relates to postnatal pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD). Interestingly, the authors propose that "…damage to the pelvic floor is probably made before first pregnancy due to congenital intrinsic weakness of pelvic floor structures." Many of the patients involved in the study had dysfunction in more than one domain of pelvic health, with the authors recommending a comprehensive approach to the evaluation of pelvic floor dysfunction.
As part of the large study called the Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints study, or SCOPE, a prospective cohort study called Prevalence and Predictors of Pelvic floor dysfunction in Prenips, or 4P, was also completed. The 4P research (n = 858) contained 2 different studies including a questionnaire-based survey and a detailed clinical assessment. The survey utilized the Australian pelvic floor questionnaire which was administered at 15 weeks gestation and at 1 year postpartum. The Australian questionnaire scores items on domains of urinary dysfunction, fecal dysfunction, pelvic organ prolapse, and sexual dysfunction. When the participants answered the questionnaire the first time, all answers were directed to be answered for symptoms they experienced prior to being pregnant.
The results indicated that at 1 year postpartum, 90% of the women in this study reported pelvic floor dysfunction. Regarding the domains of bladder, bowel, prolapse and sexual symptoms, 71% of the participants reported symptoms from more than 1 of these domains, 31% from 2 domains, 24% from 3 sections of the survey, and 8% from all four sections. Other interesting statistics are as follows:
-of the 73% of participants reporting urinary dysfunction, 67% had these symptoms persisting from the prenatal period
-pre-pregnancy urinary dysfunction symptoms persisted in postpartum in 61% of participants
-for new onset bowel symptoms in the postpartum period, fecal incontinence or obstructed defecation were more likely to occur, while incontinence of gas (flatus) was more likely to occur as persisting symptoms
-prolapse symptoms were reported by 14% of women, with 20% of participants describing symptoms as severe and most common symptoms being vaginal pressure, heaviness, or a sensation of a lump being present
-symptoms of sexual dysfunction such as dyspareunia persisted postnatally in 59% and worsened in 12% compared to prenatal period
In women who delivered vaginally, the risk of pelvic floor dysfunction was increased, yet the authors caution against stating that c-sections are protective against pelvic floor dysfunction. They do theorize based on survey results that c-section may reduce the persisting PFD. Ideally, research such as this can help can assist in creating predictions for postpartum pelvic floor symptoms based on prenatal symptom history. Certainly it may be helpful to be aware of a patient's prenatal symptoms and include any new onset or persisting postpartum symptoms in her rehabilitation. If you are interested in learning more about pelvic floor dysfunction in pregnancy or postpartum, these topics are included in our Pregnancy and Postpartum course series that you can find on our main course page. The Care of the Pregnant Patient is happening in mid-March in Seattle, with a few seats still available! Care of the Postpartum Patient happens next in May in Boston. If you are interested in hosting Peripartum Special Topics, send us an email or give us a call!