OHSU Breaking Ground in Pelvic Floor Research

10/26/99    Portland, Ore.

New Center and NIH Grant Address a Hidden Women's Health Problem.

As women's health issues have gained widespread attention in recent years, it is surprising that a health problem affecting 30 to 50 percent of all adult women remains largely in the shadows. Now, a federal grant and the opening of a new clinic will put Oregon Health Sciences University at the forefront of pelvic floor disorder research and care.

Pelvic floor disorders most often result from injuries sustained during childbirth. Common symptoms are incontinence, difficulty with bowel and bladder control and sagging of the reproductive organs. The disorders are more common than most people know, and are not simply a sign of aging. Still, the embarrassment of discussing such problems keeps many women from telling even their doctors about their symptoms.

"Doctors are talking more about these problems with their patients, but we hope to provide better education about the many new treatments available," said Renee Edwards, M.D., director of the new Pelvic Floor Center at OHSU.

Disorders of the pelvic region often do not happen in isolation. The pelvic floor has a common muscle and nerve supply, so women experiencing one problem often exhibit other symptoms. However, if pelvic floor changes are caught early, they can often be treated so that a woman can function normally without having to restrict her day-to-day activities.

"Pelvic floor disorders are complicated, involving injuries to the reproductive organs as well as the nerves, muscles and connective tissue of the pelvic region," said Amanda Clark, M.D., chief of the division of urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery at OHSU. "A new subspecialty of gynecology has been created recently to provide for the unique needs of women with pelvic floor disorders."

This area of medicine is also generating research interest. The National Institutes of Health have just awarded Clark a $1.6 million grant to study the effects of hormone replacement therapy on the connective tissue support of the pelvis, one of the first NIH grants to focus on this area. Lesley Otto, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, will participate in the research to focus on understanding the underlying causes of pelvic floor conditions. Clark and Otto also practice at the new clinic.

Kegel exercises can help strengthen a woman's pelvic muscles. "Just keeping these muscles strong may help prevent problems as a woman ages," Edwards said.