When you have a heart problem, it’s common to talk with your friends and family members about your health and your worries. But talking about more personal health conditions, such as urinary incontinence or pelvic pain, isn’t as easy, even though the symptoms can significantly affect your quality of life.
These conditions require special care from a urogynecologist, a specialist who treats women who have issues related to the pelvic floor. Urogynecologists perform a four-year residency in obstetrics and gynecology, then complete three years of fellowship training in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery. This makes them experts in helping women find answers to troubling problems.
“When you have a urogynecologic condition, you can feel very isolated,” says Laura Dhariwal, MD, a specialist in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery with Atlantic Urogynecology Associates in Summit with additional offices in Morristown, Rockaway and Bridgewater. “I remind women they’re not alone, and it gives them a sense of relief to know what they’re experiencing isn’t rare.”
What types of conditions do urogynecologists treat?
Dr. Dhariwal estimates that nearly 50% of all women over age 50 have some sort of urogynecologic issue. Symptoms may include urinary leakage, pelvic pressure or vaginal bulge, pain with intercourse or painful urination.
Conditions urogynecologists treat include:
- Stress urinary incontinence – Urine leakage due to physical activity such as laughing, coughing, wheezing, running or lifting
- Urge urinary incontinence – The inability to hold urine long enough to reach the restroom
- Overactive bladder – A sudden urge to urinate that’s hard to defer, sometimes associated with frequent urination or waking up at night to urinate.
- Pelvic organ prolapse – The drooping of pelvic organs—bladder, uterus and cervix, vagina, and rectum
- Pelvic pain
- Recurring urinary tract infections
How do urogynecologists treat pelvic floor disorders?
Urogynecologists provide both conservative and surgical treatments for pelvic floor conditions. Some non-surgical treatments can include Botox injections to treat urinary incontinence and interstitial cystitis, and urethral bulking, which uses collagen injections to treat stress urinary incontinence.
Some surgical treatments include sling surgery for stress urinary incontinence, robotic or vaginal prolapse surgery pelvic organ prolapse and other procedures for more rare conditions such a urethral diverticulum or fistulas.
Urogynecologists at Atlantic Health System routinely perform minimally invasive surgery, often using da Vinci robotic surgery system. Robotic surgery leads to less blood loss and pain, shorter hospital stays, less risk of infection and a faster return to daily activities as compared to open procedures. “Most patients go home the same day or the next day following surgery,” Dr. Dhariwal says. Atlantic Health System’s urogynecology program is one of the most experienced in the nation for sacrocolpopexy, a type of pelvic organ prolapse surgery.
How do I find a highly trained urogynecologist?
Women who experience any symptoms of pelvic floor issues should talk with their primary care provider and ask whether a referral to a urogynecologist is right for them.
All four of the urogynecology providers at Atlantic Health System are board-certified OB/GYNS and are board-certified or board-eligible in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery. “We care for only women, and our training and background gives us a unique perspective on managing these conditions,” Dr. Dhariwal says.
Many people who see urogynecologists are glad they overcame the embarrassment and found answers for conditions that may have lasted for quite some time. “Patients say they’re so thankful they found me because they had no idea my specialty existed and that they could get private, personal care,” Dr. Dhariwal says.