Perspectives of women living and exercising with pelvic floor dysfunction: findings from the PREDICT survey
Pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) affects many women throughout their lives. Obesity, ageing and childbirth are recognized risk factors for this common condition, but recent evidence suggests that participation in sport can also be involved in its pathology. However, few studies have investigated the experiences of women living and exercising with PFD. The PREvalence of pelvic floor Dysfunction In reCreaTional athletes (PREDICT) survey investigated women’s experiences of these symptoms. An online cross-sectional survey was shared via social media. The final section provided an opportunity for women to comment freely on their symptoms and experiences. Two independent researchers categorized comments, and thematic analysis was conducted to establish recurrent codes and themes. Overall, 1599 participants consented, and over one-third (n = 538) made individual comments. Two key areas were identified: the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction; and the interventions used to manage these symptoms. Some participants reported that their symptoms caused them to stop or modify their sports. Others even suggested that their symptoms were a barrier to leaving their homes. The women feared for their future, but appeared resigned to living with their symptoms. Their comments about the effects of treatment were overwhelmingly negative: some referred to physiotherapy, but most mentioned the impact of mesh surgery. However, many participants reported that they had been unable to access specialist care. The symptoms of PFD were reported to be considered normal by both the women and health professionals. Robust evidence supports simple, conservative treatment, but few seek help. For those who do, further barriers prevent access to specialist support. Future studies are essential to identify the barriers to seeking help for PFD.