NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Nearly one quarter of adult women in the US are affected by a pelvic floor disorder, such as urinary or fecal incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse, according to data from 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The prevalence of these conditions rises with increasing age, parity, and body weight.

Because the national burden related to these disorders is unknown, the Pelvic Floor Disorders Network requested that this issue be investigated in the 2005-2006 NHANES. As a result, 1961 non-pregnant women age 20 years and older were interviewed regarding pelvic floor symptoms and underwent standardized physical examinations.

Lead author Dr. Ingrid Nygaard, at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City, and co-investigators report their findings in the September 17 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The weighted prevalence of at least one pelvic floor disorders was 23.7%, including 15.7% with moderate to severe urinary incontinence, 9.0% with at least monthly stool leakage, and 2.9% who reported seeing or feeling a vaginal bulge related to pelvic organ prolapse.

The proportion of women reporting at least one disorder increased from 9.7% of women in their 20s and 30s, to 49.7% of those in their 80s.

The prevalence pelvic floor disorders was 12.8% among nulliparous women, and rose with successive deliveries to 32.4% among women with 3 or more deliveries.

Body mass index was also a significant predictor, with 15.1% of women who were underweight or normal weight reporting at least one disorder, versus 26.3% of those who were overweight and 30.4% of those who were obese.

“Given the burden pelvic floor disorders place on US women and the health care system, research is needed to further understand their pathophysiology, prevention, and treatment,” Dr. Nygaard and her colleagues conclude.

JAMA 2008;300:1311-1316.