Millennial Women Are Experiencing A Pelvic Health Epidemic

Most young women don’t think twice about their pelvic health. In fact, many women don’t even know what it means to have good pelvic health, even if they have recently had a baby. A recent survey suggests that millennial women may be struggling with their pelvic health even more than previous generations.

By Gina Florio4 min read
Pexels/Vlada Karpovich

A recent survey conducted by Origin, a premier provider of women's pelvic floor and whole-body physical therapy, in collaboration with market research giant Ipsos, has shed light on the prevalence of pelvic health issues across different generations. The survey, which focused on women aged 18 to 59, uncovered that pelvic floor problems are not just a concern for older women, as commonly believed. Surprisingly, millennials are experiencing these issues at rates comparable to or even exceeding those of Generation X, challenging the prevailing notion that such conditions primarily affect the elderly.

Carine Carmy, the co-founder and CEO of Origin, emphasized that the data contradicts the myth of pelvic floor issues being predominantly a post-menopausal concern. The study reveals that a significant portion of younger women, especially millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996), are grappling with various pelvic health challenges. This insight is pivotal, as it highlights the need for a broader understanding and approach to women's health at all stages of life.

Survey Suggests Millennial Women Struggle More with Pelvic Health

The findings of the survey are particularly concerning in that they suggest a widespread impact on the millennial generation. For example, millennials report higher incidences of bladder-related problems, such as frequent urges to urinate and difficulties in completely emptying the bladder. Over half of the women in this age group also experience urinary leakage triggered by coughing, laughing, or exercising. Moreover, a significant number of these younger women face discomfort during sexual activities and challenges achieving orgasm, which points to the severity of the issue at hand.

The survey also delves into the causes of these pelvic health problems. Childbirth is certainly a primary factor, whether it’s a vaginal delivery or C-section, particularly among millennial women. The physical effects from childbirth can lead to muscle and fascial damage, resulting in altered pressure within the pelvic region and weakened pelvic floor muscles, which are crucial for urinary control.

In addition to childbirth, lifestyle factors and certain behaviors also contribute to the prevalence of these issues. For instance, dietary irritants like caffeine and alcohol, along with poor hydration and prolonged sitting, exacerbate bladder urgency and frequency. Bladder retraining techniques are recommended by experts, such as diaphragmatic breathing during urges, as effective methods for managing these symptoms.

Stress, anxiety, and depression are common mental health issues that can manifest physically as pelvic health problems.

The mental health aspect cannot be overlooked either. The survey indicates that stress and anxiety, which have surged among millennials post-Covid, are strongly linked to pelvic floor tightness and related symptoms. Mental health and pelvic health in women are intricately linked, with each significantly impacting the other. Stress, anxiety, and depression are common mental health issues that can manifest physically as pelvic health problems. This connection is primarily due to the physiological responses the body has to mental stress, which often involve the pelvic floor muscles.

The pelvic floor is a complex structure of muscles that support the pelvic organs and assist in the functioning of the bladder, bowels, and sexual activity. Under mental stress, these muscles can become tensed involuntarily. Just as stress can cause neck or back muscles to tighten involuntarily, similar reactions can occur in the pelvic muscles. Chronic tension in the pelvic floor can lead to a range of symptoms, including pelvic pain, increased frequency or urgency of urination, and pain during sexual intercourse.

Furthermore, mental health issues can disrupt the brain's chemical balance, affecting the nerves that control the pelvic region. Conditions such as depression and anxiety can lead to an overactive bladder or irritable bowel syndrome, exacerbating physical symptoms associated with pelvic disorders. This is particularly evident in stress urinary incontinence (SUI), where psychological stress can increase episodes of involuntary leakage.

In addition, mental health struggles can heighten your perception of pain, making any pelvic discomfort feel more severe. This can create a vicious cycle where pain worsens mental health symptoms, further intensifying physical symptoms. Emotional stress can also affect sexual health by decreasing libido and causing difficulties in achieving arousal or orgasm, linking back to both mental well-being and pelvic health.

Addressing these issues often requires a holistic approach that includes both psychological and physical treatments. Psychological interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), stress management techniques, and counseling can help alleviate mental stress, while physical therapies can directly address pelvic floor dysfunction. Recognizing and treating the interconnected nature of mental and pelvic health is crucial for comprehensive care and improved quality of life.

Not Enough Women Are Supported in Their Pelvic Health 

The openness of millennials to discuss and seek solutions for pelvic health issues marks a significant shift. Historically, these problems were either normalized or overlooked by both the medical community and society at large. However, today's generation is more willing to address and discuss these traditionally taboo subjects, leading to an increased demand for information and solutions.

Despite this growing awareness and willingness to seek help, the survey also highlights significant barriers to accessing effective treatment. A staggering 80% of pelvic health therapists do not accept insurance, which poses a substantial financial challenge for many women seeking care. This gap in care and the associated costs emphasize the urgent need for more research and better insurance coverage for pelvic health treatments.

One in four women who had a baby in the last five years felt “not at all supported” by their medical providers during the postpartum recovery.

The survey also revealed that only two in every five women who had a baby in the last five years were told by their providers what is normal and what isn’t normal in terms of pelvic health symptoms. Additionally, one in four women who had a baby in the last five years felt “not at all supported” by their medical providers during the postpartum recovery. 71% of these women also said they weren’t given proper education about exercising after giving birth, how to heal their pelvic floor after childbirth, and how to heal their abdominal area after giving birth. 

After childbirth, women may experience a variety of changes and sensations in their pelvic region, some of which are normal and temporary, while others may be abnormal and require medical attention. Normally, it’s common for women to experience some degree of perineal soreness, particularly if there was tearing or an episiotomy during delivery. Light to moderate vaginal bleeding, known as lochia, is also typical for several weeks postpartum. Additionally, women might notice weaker pelvic floor muscles leading to temporary urinary incontinence, especially when sneezing, laughing, or coughing. This usually improves with pelvic floor exercises such as Kegels.

On the other hand, certain symptoms are considered abnormal and warrant prompt medical consultation. These include severe or persistent pain that does not improve with standard pain relief measures or time, heavy vaginal bleeding that soaks through one or more pads per hour, which could indicate hemorrhage or retained placental fragments. Signs of infection, such as fever, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, or severe pain in the abdomen, should also not be ignored, as these could suggest endometritis or infected episiotomy sites. Additionally, difficulty urinating or complete inability to urinate, significant and ongoing difficulties with bowel movements, or severe and persistent pain during intercourse (beyond the initial few times following resumption) are also abnormal. Such symptoms could indicate complications like pelvic organ prolapse, severe muscle tears, or other underlying conditions that might require treatments ranging from medication to physical therapy or even surgery.

It's essential for women to monitor their bodies and seek medical advice if they experience any symptoms that feel extreme, do not improve, or significantly interfere with their quality of life. Early intervention can prevent complications and aid in a smoother recovery postpartum. And most importantly, if you feel like you are not properly supported by your medical provider, you have every right to seek a new doctor who will help you better understand what your body needs for long-term healing.

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