Pelvic floor dysfunction: a conceptual framework for collaborative patient-centred care


Devinder Kumar, Department of Surgery and Gastrointestinal  Motility Unit, Level 3, St James Wing, St George's Hospital, Blackshaw Road, London SW17 ORE, UK.


Background. Pelvic floor dysfunction is a disorder predominantly affecting females. It is common and undermines the quality of lives of at least one-third of adult women and is a growing component of women's health care needs. Identifying and supporting these needs is a major public health issue with a strong psychosocial and economic basis. The importance of the interdependence of mechanical, neural, endocrine and environmental factors in the development of pelvic floor dysfunction is well recognized. There is a paucity of data investigating the true prevalence, incidence, specific risk factors, poor outcome of treatment and subsequent prevention strategies for women with multiple pelvic floor symptomatology.

Aim. The aim of this paper is to present a critical review of the literature on the mechanism, presentation and management of multiple symptomatology in pelvic floor dysfunction and to propose a conceptual framework by which to consider the impact and problems women with pelvic floor dysfunction face.

Methods. A comprehensive although not exhaustive literature search was carried out using medical and nursing databases BIOMED (1966–2002) NESLI (1989–2002) and EMBASE (1980–2003) CINAHL (1982–2003) and Cochrane databases using the key words ‘pelvic floor dysfunction’, ‘incontinence (urinary and faecal)’, ‘genital prolapse’, sexual dysfunction, ‘aetiology’, epidemiology’ and ‘treatment’. Retrospective and prospective studies and previous clinical reviews were considered for review. The articles retrieved were hand searched for further citations and referrals were made to relevant textbooks. Particular attention was paid to papers that focused on multiple pelvic floor symptoms.

Findings. Pelvic floor dysfunction affects women of all ages and is associated with functional problems of the pelvic floor. Pelvic floor dysfunction describes a wide range of clinical problems that rarely occur in isolation. Inaccurate knowledge, myths and misconceptions of the incidence, cause and treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction abound. Given the significance of the aetiological contribution of factors such as pregnancy and obstetric trauma, ageing, hormonal status, hysterectomy and lifestyle in the development of pelvic floor disorders, the assessment, management and prevention of pelvic floor dysfunction remains a neglected part of many health care professionals educational preparation. This not only has major economic but also psychosocial implications for women, the general population and women's health care providers. A conceptual framework is also discussed that considers not only the impact and difficulties women with pelvic floor dysfunction face but also areas in which health care professionals can improve assessment and eventual treatment outcomes.

Conclusion. This paper demonstrates gaps in the current provision of women's health care services. Functional pelvic floor problems are perceived to have low priority compared with other health disorders, and treatment remains sub-optimal. Inherent in achieving and promoting better health care services for women is the need for better collaborative approaches to care. There is a need to identify and develop comprehensive interdisciplinary, multi-professional strategies that improve the assessment and treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction in primary, secondary and tertiary settings. If this area of women's health care is to be improved nurses, whether community- or hospital-based, must play a front-line role in challenging and changing current practices. Education needs to be given greater priority and the development of a specialist pelvic floor nurse role explored. Such strategies could substantially influence a more effective approach to women's health care needs, result in improved treatment outcomes and liberate women from the embarrassment, social and sexual isolation, restriction to employment and leisure opportunities and potential loss of independence that multiple symptomatology can generate.