In a study that was originally published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, researchers correlated self-reported irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with symptoms of urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse (POP), sexual function, and quality of life (QOL.)
In a population of more than 2100 female patients, the reported incidence of IBS was nearly 10%. Within these women, an increased risk of bother from prolapse and sexual dysfunction was reported as well as a decrease in quality of life scores. The authors point out the hypothesis that frequent bouts of constipation may lead to weak pelvic floor muscles, and therefore increased pelvic prolapse, but this remains to be proven in the literature.
This study is meaningful not only because it evaluates information about a large group of women, but also because the population is a diverse group between the ages of 40 and 69. As IBS according to the ROME III can be further divided into constipation-dominant, diarrhea-dominant, or both, it makes sense that pelvic floor dysfunction is correlated to the diagnosis. Many patients who experience loose stool with IBS may unknowingly tighten the pelvic floor chronically to avoid leakage, and this in itself could lead to pelvic muscle tension and dysco-ordination as we see in many of our patients. Those patients who experience constipation and straining may also interfere with healthy muscle activity and create prolonged stress on the supporting tissues in the pelvis and pelvic floor.
The relationships pointed out in this study remind rehabilitation experts that it is important to ask detailed questions about all aspects of a patient's pelvic health, from sexual function to bladder or bowel function. This study is now available in PubMed Central, where you can find free, full-access articles.