Understanding the causes, symptoms and impact of pelvic floor dysfunction can empower women to get the treatment they deserve. The role of the nervous system in pelvic floor dysfunction is an important piece of this puzzle.
Nerve damage to either the spinal cord or in the pelvic area can lead to pelvic floor disorders, often affecting bladder and sphincter control. Women who are experiencing symptoms of this type of dysfunction should take them seriously and get help.
Nerve Damage and Pelvic Floor Disorders
Nerve damage can affect the bladder. The muscles and nerves of the pelvic floor are both critical to a well functioning bladder. Muscles tighten and relax as necessary, allowing the bladder to eliminate urine. But it is the nerves that allow your brain to give and receive the right messages about when to tighten and relax. Damage to these nerves can therefore impact how well the bladder functions.
A variety of causes can create nerve damage that leads to pelvic floor dysfunction, including vaginal childbirth, diabetes, stroke, heavy metal poisoning, brain or spinal cord infection or injury, and multiple sclerosis. Genetic nerve problems and spinal cord birth defects such as spina bifida can also be triggers.1
When the nerves responsible for bladder enervation are damaged, it can lead to a condition called neurogenic bladder, which affects millions of Americans.2 Neurogenic bladder can take many forms, but it ultimately leads to a lack of bladder or sphincter control.
Neurogenic bladder can lead to several pelvic floor disorders, including urinary tract infections, bladder leakage, overactive bladder, under-active bladder, and issues with sphincter control. These symptoms are more than just unpleasant. They can affect your self esteem and your desire to socialize and be intimate with your partner. Neurogenic bladder can also lead to bladder, ureters or kidney infection, or to blood in the urine.3
There are other types of nerve damage that can lead to pelvic floor disorders. For example, injury or irritation of nerves in the vulvar region can lead to a condition called vulvodynia, which causes long lasting pain, irritation and burning around the opening of the vagina.4 Nerve damage to the pudendal nerve, which is the main nerve of the perineum (the space between the anus and vulva), can lead to pudendal neuralgia. This is a rare condition that leads to pain and discomfort in the pelvis or genitals.5 And patients with spinal cord injuries may struggle with both bladder and bowel control.6
The type of nerve damage and pelvic floor disorder you experience will impact the type of treatment you need, which can range from lifestyle changes to medical and surgical interventions. Only a doctor can make this assessment, which is why seeking help is so critical.
What To Do
Never downplay any symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction. This is true whether you suspect your symptoms are due to nerve damage or to other common causes, such injury, surgery or advancing age. Getting treatment can drastically improve not just your health, but also your quality of life.
Be sure to talk to your doctor, who can assess the cause of your disorder and help determine a treatment plan that is right for you. It’s never been easier to find a physician near you online, who can help you get the relief you need.