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What are PFDs?

Pelvic floor disorders (PFDs) are a group of conditions that affect the pelvic floor.

The pelvic floor includes the muscles, ligaments and connective tissue in the lowest part of the pelvis. It supports your organs, including the bowel, bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum. The pelvic floor prevents these organs from falling down or out of your body. It also helps the organs function properly.


What Causes PFDs?

In general, a pelvic floor disorder is due to weakened pelvic muscles or tears in the connective tissue. A damaged pelvic floor cannot continue to provide the support that your organs need to work effectively. As this structure weakens, normal functioning of the bowel, bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum can be affected.

There are many causes of PFDs. In addition, research is ongoing. Some of the reasons women develop PFDs are better understood than other reasons. There is a strong need for continued research in this field. The PFD Research Foundation funds researchers and clinical scientists looking for the answers.


Did you know?

  • Your brain controls the muscles of the pelvic floor by way of nerves.
  • Health conditions or injuries that affect the nerves (such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, back surgery, spinal stenosis, or childbirth) can weaken the pelvic floor muscles.


Am I at Risk?

One out of four women (25%) 20 years or older suffer with PFDs. Most struggle with one or more PFDs—POP, urinary incontinence (UI), and fecal incontinence (FI—also called anal incontinence or accidental bowel leakage).


Check Your PFD Risk

Life Stage


Childbirth can contribute to the development of PFDs, because it can put excessive strain on the pelvic floor during delivery. Vaginal births double the rate of pelvic floor disorders compared to Cesarean deliveries or women who never gave birth.


The pelvic floor muscles often weaken during menopause, which can lead to the development of pelvic organ prolapse (POP).


The strength of the pelvic floor deteriorates as women age, which can also lead to the development of POP.

Race and Ethnicity


Some women are born with weaker pelvic floor muscles. This puts them at a greater risk for PFDs. If your mother or sister have a PFD, you are at higher risk of developing one.


Caucasian women are more likely to develop prolapse and to have urine leakage related to coughing, sneezing and activities. African American women are more likely to have urinary leakage related to urgency.


Mexican American women are more likely to struggle with urinary incontinence than other Hispanic/Latino women. However, this difference may reflect a reluctance to seek medical care and/or language barrier.



Overweight or obese women have increased pressure on the bladder and often lack strength in their pelvic muscles. They are at an increased risk of developing POP and urinary incontinence (UI).


When there is not enough fiber or water in a woman’s diet, bowel movements are more likely to be hard or irregular. Processed foods can lead to constipation. Certain foods also can irritate the bladder, making women feel like they have to urinate. Bladder irritants include caffeine and alcohol.


Women who smoke increase their risk of developing POP and UI. If you smoke, quit now. Smoking is generally not good for bladder health. It also can damage connective tissue in your body, including the tissue in your pelvic area.

Heavy Lifting / Exertion

Certain occupations, usually those that involve heavy lifting or exertion can increase the risk of developing PFDs. Repetitive strenuous activity is also a risk. For some women, stair climbing can cause leakage.

Health Problems/Medical History

Constipation/Chronic Straining

Straining with constipation puts significant pressure on the weak vaginal wall and can further thin it out. This increases the risk for prolapse.

Pelvic Injury/Surgery

Loss of pelvic support can occur when the pelvic floor is injured from falls, car accidents or surgery. Hysterectomy and other procedures that treat pelvic organ prolapse can sometimes cause further prolapse.

Lung Conditions/Chronic Coughing

Chronic respiratory disorders can cause increased pressure in the abdomen and pelvis, which increases the risk of POP.

Sexual Dysfunction

Pelvic floor symptoms are significantly associated with reduced sexual arousal, infrequent orgasm, and painful intercourse (known in medical terms as dyspareunia).

Health Conditions or Injuries That Affect the Nerves

For example, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, back surgery, spinal stenosis, or childbirth can weaken the pelvic floor muscles.

Emotional Stress

Emotional stress can make you feel anxious and that you need to go. For some, it can also result in loose stools.


Learn the Terms Glossary

Medicine is a new language. Moreover, pelvic floor disorder terms are a new dialect! It may take a while to learn the unique terms, phrases, and acronyms relating to PFDs. Here’s a glossary to get you started on your path to pelvic floor disorder literacy.


PFD 101: Fact or Fiction

Take our true or false quiz to test your knowledge of pelvic floor disorders.