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The Disorder Affecting 1 in 3 Women You Don't Know Much About

Photograph by Twenty20

It's not always easy to talk about the changes that happen to your body after giving birth but, for one woman, those changes were particularly horrific. Although the home birth of her daughter went smoothly, Kimberly Johnson experienced a nightmare afterwards.

A pelvic tear that didn't heal properly and a uterine prolapse (where the top of her birth canal dropped into her vagina) took nine months to diagnose. It was six years before she felt completely healed of a disorder that research shows happens to about one in three American women, according to Today.

It's called pelvic floor disorder and, although it's not new a new condition, experts say there's more talk about it, thanks to celebrities such as "Girls" star Zosia Mamet speaking openly about her experience. With so many women suffering from this disorder during their lifetime, it's important to know its symptoms such as urinary and fecal incontinence, constipation, pelvic organ prolapse and pain during intercourse.

The important thing to know about this disorder is that it isn't normal and women should not have to suffer. Although Johnson's case was particularly gruesome, she reports being "so relieved" to have finally found help but was still shocked to "encounter this black hole in women's health." Women need to be well-informed about this potential medical condition.

"These are sensitive topics that can be difficult to broach with a doctor," Dr. Barbara Levy, vice president of Health Policy for the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told Today. "I want women to know that there is help available for them if they want it."

The first thing to know is that the pelvic floor is not really a floor, but rather a three-dimensional bowl-like network of muscles and connective tissue that extends between the hip bones, the pubic bone and the tail bone. Second, Kegel exercises may not be your answer since, although they help women with incontinence, they can actually make things worse.

If you have signs of pelvic floor disorder, you should see your doctor or OB-GYN. The good news is that treatment options can range from non-invasive to surgical. These include pelvic floor physical therapy, the use of a tampon-like insert for stress incontinence or a diaphragm-like pessary which supports the pelvic organs and holds them up and in place. Botox injections in the bladder and surgical options can also help with many types of dysfunction.

What you shouldn't try, however, is a jade egg (no matter how many celebs say they do it). An iPhone-synced device such as the $199 Elvie, another kind of pelvic floor trainer, might be a better option because it could help you stick to a routine, but you should really see a doctor or physical therapist that specializes in treating pelvic floor issues rather than self-diagnosing and treating.

"Walking around with a jade egg in your vagina would be like trying to make your upper body stronger by carrying a 5-pound dumbbell around," Dr. Kimberly Kenton, director of the Women's Integrated Pelvic Health Program at Northwestern Medicine, told Today. "It doesn’t work that way."

However, specialists are hopeful that, with more awareness of the pelvic floor and problems associated with this disorder, more women can get treatment sooner to improve their quality of life.

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