Researchers conduct longest running postnatal pelvic floor dysfunction study

21 July 2017

Researchers conduct longest running postnatal pelvic floor dysfunction study

Professor Suzanne Hagen

Researchers from the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) are conducting the longest running postnatal pelvic floor dysfunction research project ever, working with women first contacted for the study 25 years ago.

In 1993, the research team recruited 8,000 women in Aberdeen, Birmingham and Dunedin three months after they had given birth to assess the consequences of childbirth on urinary and faecal incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, collectively described as pelvic floor dysfunction.

About 20 to 30% of women suffer from postpartum urinary incontinence, and three to five per cent have faecal incontinence. Although pelvic floor dysfunction is fairly common, causing distress and impaired quality of life, the long term effects and treatment are poorly understood.

The group of participants completed follow up questionnaires after six years, when 45% of them reported urinary incontinence and 10% had faecal incontinence, and at 12 years when 53% had urinary incontinence and 13% faecal incontinence. Prolapse was measured at 12 years and found in 24% of the participants.

With new funding of £270,000 from the Chief Scientist Office (CSO), GCU’s Professor Suzanne Hagen and Mr Andy Elders are now – 25 years later – contacting the women, many of whom will be experiencing the menopause as a result of which pelvic floor dysfunction may be even more common.  

The study will run for two years and will help to inform healthcare estimates of future need for treatment and research, and ultimately improve women’s health during and after pregnancy.     

The participants will receive a questionnaire and be invited for pelvic floor examination, the findings of which would be combined with NHS data about pelvic floor dysfunction treatment received and how it relates to childbirth and other risk factors, particularly the menopause.

Professor Hagen said: “We are delighted that the CSO has funded this important piece of research, which will provide unique data about women’s pelvic floor issues across the life span after giving birth. It will allow us to maintain a large, longstanding cohort of women willing to help with continuing research in this under-researched area.”

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