Susan Thompson, pelvic health patient, and husband

Women's Health | one month ago

What's normal, what's not: One woman shares her story of pelvic dysfunction

Pelvic floor dysfunction is very common. However, many women do not feel comfortable talking to their doctors about the symptoms and suffer through pelvic pain in silence. Sixty-year-old Susan Thompson says she didn’t realize how much it impeded her life until she reached out for help.

Susan Thompson just wanted to be able to pick up her grandchildren or push them on a swing without pain. She says she started to notice pelvic pressure to the point where it felt like she was sitting on a small tennis ball.

“I suffered a lot of abdominal and vaginal pressure; a lot of heaviness. Women learn to manage,” Susan says. Women with Susan’s condition use the bathroom first before lifting, they don’t drink a lot and suffer frequent constipation. They are modifiers, always ready to be flexible with whatever comes along while learning to navigate around obstacles. “You don’t realize how much you use your pelvic floor,” says Susan. “Women tend to silently tolerate these pelvic and urinary problems and just deal with it. We convince ourselves that it is just a part of being a woman along with hormones and hot flashes.”

In women, the pelvis is home to organs including the bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum, and the pelvic floor muscles are the home’s foundation. Dr. Erinn Myers, a female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgeon at Atrium Health Women’s Care Urogynecology & Pelvic Surgery, says, “We are here to help. Over time, risk factors like vaginal delivery, chronic constipation, heavy lifting and others can cause relaxation of the pelvic floor. When the organs are not supported well, then prolapse and incontinence symptoms can occur.” Prolapse is when one or more of the pelvic organs comes to or past the vaginal opening and can be quite uncomfortable. When the bladder is not in the proper place it is more likely that a woman will experience symptoms of leakage or incomplete bladder emptying," she said.

Symptoms and Causes

Prolapse and incontinence are very common. Women, like Susan, do not have to live with these symptoms which also include feeling pressure or a pulling in your lower back with no other cause and feeling ongoing pressure in your pelvic region, vagina or rectum — with or without a bowel movement. And anyone can develop pelvic floor issues. Other risk factors include obesity, traumatic injury to the pelvic region, nerve damage and pelvic surgery.

When Symptoms Peak

Susan suffered a bad fall in April of 2021 where she fractured her tibia, tore her ACL in her left knee and tore both meniscuses. It was a tough recovery and during physical therapy she noticed the pelvic pressure. Susan says she experienced brief gushes of urine just while trying to get up off the floor or even pushing a vacuum. “I literally felt like my body parts were falling out,” Susan says. She scheduled an appointment with Dr. Richard James, at Atrium Health Women’s Care Charlotte OB/GYN who referred Susan to Myers.  

“My initial appointment with Dr. Myers’ team helped me to understand that I was not alone in this journey, and I received assurance that I did not have to live this way,” says Susan. “As I looked around the waiting room, it was apparent that many women just like me were seeking help and hope for their own pelvic issues. Dr. Myers met with me and my husband and provided the results of the tests and took the time to help us to understand the options that were available along with what was causing the many problems I experienced daily.”

Myers patiently answered all Susan’s questions and addressed every concern her and her husband had. The surgery would be extensive to correct the many problems internally. While the uncertainty of what was ahead felt scary, Myers’ comforting words and compassionate assurances made Susan feel confident in her care. “Surgery was the best option, and I left the office feeling hopeful that I could live my life without the embarrassing challenges and limitations I had accepted as being a part of life.”

Myers performed robotic surgery to re-support the pelvic organs. Literally her pelvic body parts were not where they were supposed to be. “There are both natural tissue repairs as well as mesh-based repairs that can be done to help re-support the pelvic organs,” Myers says. “You can think of this like a hernia. Some hernia repairs require mesh, and some do not. We are often able to address the incontinence surgically on the same day, which was the case for Susan, so she did not need two separate surgeries.”

Atrium Health is proud to be a leader in robotic surgery – a sophisticated technique that blends the accuracy of a robot with the talent of specially trained surgeons. Robot-assisted surgery is less invasive than traditional surgery and provides surgical teams the precision to do what is not always possible with human hands alone. Robotic surgery has other benefits including a quicker recovery, less blood loss, improved cosmetic results and less risk of infection.

Finding Hope

“Just before the surgery Dr. Myers thanked me for trusting her. I’ve never had a doctor say that to me. All my doctors were compassionate and good listeners,” says Susan. “This issue is taboo and embarrassing, but I want to be an advocate for patients and tell them what my journey was like. If I can help ease the mind of other women experiencing this, I’d do it because I didn’t have that.”

Myers adds, “We want to spread the word about these conditions so that women with these symptoms feel safe coming forward. If we can spread awareness, then women with these symptoms can seek treatment and find hope.”

Today, Susan says she can lift her sweet grandchildren and is back to walking and exercising without the problems and pain that persisted prior to surgery.

No matter what type of pelvic or gynecological issue you are experiencing, Atrium Health Women’s Care Urogynecology & Pelvic Surgery can help. Learn more about the conditions we treat and meet our providers, including Dr. Erinn Myers.