In Dr. Caroline Elmer-Lyon’s practice, no topic is off-limits. She wants patients to be comfortable discussing any issue affecting their quality of life, whether it’s urinary or bowel leakage or pelvic organ prolapse.
“It’s real life,” says Elmer-Lyon, a urogynecologist with St. Elizabeth Physicians. “We never like to say this is normal because it’s not. These conditions might be common, but they’re not normal. If it bothers you, seek treatment.”
As a urogynecologist, Elmer-Lyon specializes in pelvic floor health. Like all OB/GYNs, she went through a four-year residency in her field, but after that, chose to complete additional training through a three-year fellowship in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, or urogynecology. She joined St. Elizabeth Physicians in 2019 and treats a wide array of pelvic health conditions, including pelvic organ prolapse, urinary and fecal incontinence, and pelvic pain.
“We like to make patients feel comfortable,” she says. “These can be uncomfortable conversations, but we try to normalize them as much as possible.”
The term “pelvic floor” describes the muscles that support the bladder, uterus and rectum. The pelvic floor muscles are vital to routine bodily functions, such as urination, bowel movements and sex.
According to Elmer-Lyon, many women first experience weakened pelvic floor muscles after pregnancy and childbirth. Nevertheless, you don’t have to have given birth to experience pelvic floor dysfunction. Aging is another common contributor to pelvic floor disorders, she notes.
However pelvic floor disorders occur, women experiencing them often suffer in silence.
The most common concerns Elmer-Lyon hears from her patients relate to bladder incontinence and prolapse. With the former, women can experience overactive bladder (having to urinate frequently) or stress incontinence (leakage that follows physical activity). With prolapse, pelvic organs drop from their normal positions and the vagina pushes outward, making many patients feel their organs are “falling out.”
Too often, women might think these issues are “normal” parts of the aging process or a “normal” change to endure after having children. Elmer-Lyon wants to change that belief.
“This isn’t something women should ignore,” Elmer-Lyon says. “We don’t do that for high blood pressure, diabetes or other conditions. When these issues affect your quality of life, they need to be addressed.”
Elmer-Lyon educates patients on options for pelvic floor support so they can find the right solution for their concerns.
“You begin to realize how important pelvic floor muscles are,” Elmer-Lyon says. “Most patients feel better and more empowered about pelvic floor health.”
Treatments can range from at-home exercises like Kegels to pelvic floor therapy and other non-surgical procedures. Most issues don’t require surgery, a fact that gives many patients a sense of relief, she says. If surgery is required, it’s typically for advanced conditions or ones that don’t resolve with noninvasive methods.
Typically, patients referred to a pelvic floor physical therapist will have their sessions covered by insurance. A course of treatment can range from as little as two sessions to regular appointments during the course of a year. St. Elizabeth Physicianshas eight physical therapists in its network with certifications in pelvic floor issues.
Elmer-Lyon says she’s glad to see a greater awareness of pelvic floor health among her patients, and she’s seeing more patients following referrals from their primary care doctors and OB/GYNs. That shows that healthcare providers are becoming more aware of the nature of pelvic floor dysfunction and the importance of referring patients to specialists.
“We want women to know this exists and to talk about it,” Elmer-Lyon says. “It’s great to see more women seeking help, and we love being able to offer patients the whole gamut of treatment options.”
Are pelvic floor issues affecting your quality of life? To learn more about pelvic healthcare at St. Elizabeth, visit stelizabethphysicians.com or call 859-757-2132.