Report shows pelvic health problems rampant among women

September 27, 2007

by Emily Proffitt

Journal of Business

Experts here say women now are more willing to discuss disorders

At least one-third of U.S. women will suffer pelvic health problems by age 60, sometimes including heavy menstrual bleeding or incontinence, but many of them don't seek medical help, a national study and health-care providers here say.

The onset of such conditions is highest among baby boomers, says the recent report, issued by the National Women's Health Resource Center.

Health-care providers here say that many women suffer the conditions in silence because they're too embarrassed to tell their doctors about the symptoms, or they don't think treatments are available. That's changing, though, they say, because physicians are paying more attention to such problems, advancements are being made in diagnosis and treatment, and aging baby boomers are refusing to let such conditions hinder their active lifestyles.

"It used to be that people just quietly lived with these problems," says Dr. Debra Ravasia, a gynecologist at Women's Health Connection PS, of Spokane, who focuses particularly on urogynecology in her practice. "People have been told that it's normal and that's the way it is, but it's really not, and once they hear there's a solution, they come forward."

The national report was released in June and was funded by the National Women's Health Resource Center, a Red Bank, N.J.-based nonprofit organization that collects and distributes women's health information. It focused on four pelvic health
conditions: abnormally heavy menstrual periods, uterine fibroid tumors, stress urinary incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse.

About one-third of baby boomer women, or 13.5 million people, suffer from heavy periods, the report says. Heavy periods and uterine fibroids were the primary cause behind 44 percent of hysterectomies done in the U.S. in 2005.

Ravasia says women ages 40 to 50 often have heavy menstrual bleeding as a result of the early stages of menopause.

Before diving into treatment options for such women, she first runs tests on patients to rule out an anemia or a thyroid problem, a pre-cancerous condition, or chronic infection as possible causes.

Some patients elect to use a combination of hormone therapies to stop heavy periods, while others opt for one of two relatively new proceduresÑendometrial ablation and laparoscopic supracervical hysterectomy (LaSH), she says.

Endometrial ablation is a minimally-invasive procedure done in a doctor's office that involves destroying part of the uterine lining that bleeds every month. LaSH is an outpatient partial hysterectomy that involves removing the top part of the uterus that bleeds every month and preserving the cervix, ovaries, and ligaments that support the cervix and vagina, she says.

"It used to be that total hysterectomy was the only option, but now we have these procedures that don't have the longer recovery times and higher risk of injuries," Ravasia says.