Why Your Pelvic Floor May Be The Cause of Your Digestive Problems
By Gaby Vargas
Mar 10, 2017
Updated Oct 25, 2023
5 min read
Women are usually more likely than men to present with digestive problems. Gastrointestinal symptoms can be painful, inconvenient, and even embarrassing — they can lead to tense social situations and negatively impact your work and home life.
Understanding how these symptoms affect women both physically and emotionally can help improve your quality of life. Pelvic floor disorders encompass a wide range of conditions caused by dysfunction of the muscles in the pelvic area that lead to abnormalities in bowel storage or emptying.
The pelvic floor is a sheet of muscle through which the rectum passes and becomes the anal canal. The anal canal is surrounded by the anal sphincter complex, which is comprised of both an internal and external component. In addition to the rectum, the urethra, which carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body, also passes through the front portion of the pelvic floor, as does the vagina in females.
The most important part of evaluating a patient with suspected pelvic floor dysfunction is a thorough medical history and physical examination, including an examination of the pelvic floor. An important aspect of the history includes a thorough obstetrical (child-bearing) review in women. This should identify a history of difficult deliveries, forceps deliveries, prolonged labor, and traumatic tears or episiotomies (controlled surgical incisions between the rectum and vagina to prevent traumatic tearing during childbirth).
In addition, a thorough history of the patient’s bowel patterns, including diarrhea, constipation, or both, is also essential. Other key parts of the history include prior anorectal surgeries and the presence of pain prior to, during, or following a bowel movement.
After a complete history and physical examination, a number of tests may be performed, depending on the patient’s symptoms and the physician’s suspicion of what may be causing the symptoms. These tests can sometimes be uncomfortable or embarrassing for the patient, but they can provide valuable information to help determine what’s causing the patient’s symptoms and provide relief. Some of these tests include endoanal ultrasound, anorectal manometry, pudendal nerve motor latency testing, defecography, colon transit study, and balloon expulsion test.
Treatments include biofeedback with the help of a physical therapist, medication, and surgery. Pelvic floor dysfunction can often be successfully treated without surgery.
Colon and rectal surgeons are experts in the surgical and non-surgical treatment of diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus. We’ve completed advanced surgical training in the treatment of these diseases, as well as full general surgical training. We’re well-versed in the treatment of both benign and malignant diseases of the colon, rectum and anus and are able to perform routine screening examinations and surgically treat conditions if needed.