Glossary of pelvic health Terms

Glossary of Terms

Abdominal Surgery – Surgery performed by direct incision through the skin, muscles, and supportive structures inside the body, allowing the surgeon direct access to the tissues or organs to be repaired, altered or removed. Used for diagnosis and treatment for various pelvic floor disorders.

Artificial Urinary Sphincter – A device placed around the urethra in patients who have moderate to severe stress urinary incontinence

Behavioral Therapy – Methods to help retrain the bladder to help decrease urinary frequency, urgency and incontinence. This often involves a combination of therapies as well as dietary modifications.

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) – An enlarged prostate not caused by cancer. BPH can cause problems with urination because the prostate squeezes the urethra at the opening of the bladder.

Biofeedback – A means of bladder retraining that uses a sensor placed in the vagina of a female or the anus of a male, connected to a computer or home therapy unit, that shows how the muscles of the pelvic floor are contracting and relaxing. Biofeedback enables you to focus on contracting the correct muscles of the pelvic floor as a means of improving continence.

Biologic Mesh/Biologic Graft – A type of surgical mesh that’s derived from human or animal origin. Like synthetic mesh, it’s designed to be soft and pliable.

Bladder – The muscular sac in the pelvis that stores urine; A hollow, muscular organ that collects and stores urine from the kidneys.

Bladder Control – The ability to keep urine from leaking out of the bladder.

Bladder Prolapse (Cystocele, pronounced “cyst-o-seal”) – A pelvic organ prolapse condition in which the bladder pushes into the vaginal wall.

Bladder Retraining – Bladder retraining is an education program that teaches you how to restore a normal pattern of urination by setting scheduled trips to the bathroom, with the goal achieving longer time intervals between each trip. Bladder retraining encourages the use of slow, deep breathing to relax and reduce or eliminate the urge, and performing five or six rapid intense pelvic muscle contractions (Kegel Exercises).

Bladder Suspension – A surgical procedure that positions the bladder and prevents its descent into the vagina.

Blood Test – A blood sample tested in the laboratory for signs of other causes of incontinence.

Bulking Injections – Synthetic thickening agents injected into the urethral lining to add bulk, helping the urethra close more tightly.

Burch Procedure – Also known as a retropubic suspension or Burch Colposuspension, this more invasive surgical procedure elevates the urethra and bladder neck to a higher anatomical position, alleviating stress urinary incontinence symptoms.

Bowel – The small and large intestine.

Catheter – A tube inserted through the urethra to the bladder in order to drain urine.

Chronic Incontinence – Regular leakage of urine that occurs for six months or longer. 

Clean Intermittent Catheterization (CIC) – A common way for people who are unable to empty their bladders on their own to relieve themselves on a routine schedule, using a clean technique.

Constipation – Difficulty in passing stools, or hard stools.

Continence – The ability to exercise control over urination or a having bowel movement until an appropriate time and place can be found.

Cystocele (Bladder Prolapse) – A condition where the front wall of the vagina sags downward or outward, allowing the bladder to drop from its normal position. This may be referred to as a “dropped bladder.”

Cystoscopy – Method of looking into the bladder with a tiny, lighted telescope to look for abnormalities in the bladder or urethra.

Detrusor Muscle – The muscular lining of the bladder which contracts in tandem with the pelvic floor muscles to empty the bladder.

Digital Rectal Exam – Examination of the lower rectum with a lubricated finger to feel for abnormalities.

Dyspareunia – Painful sexual intercourse. This may either be a symptom of vaginal prolapse, or a complication following a surgical procedure for vaginal prolapse.

Ejaculation – The ejection of semen during orgasm.

Elasticity – The ability of tissue to return to its original shape after being stretched.

Electrical Stimulation – A form of biofeedback that is typically done under the supervision of physical therapists familiar with technology. Electrical stimulation of pelvic floor muscles and nerves is used to assist women in finding and contracting their pelvic muscles. Women are taught to insert a device in their vagina or rectum on a daily basis.

Enterocele (Intestinal Prolapse) – A condition where the support to the top of the vagina is weakened, allowing bulging of the small intestine. This type of prolapse is most often seen in women who have undergone a hysterectomy.

Erectile Dysfunction (Impotence) – Inability to achieve or sustain an erection that is satisfactory to engage in sexual intercourse.

Fistula – Abnormal connection or passageway between two organs or between an organ and the skin.

Gastroenterologist – A doctor who specializes in problems of the intestinal system. If you have diarrhea, constipation, or bowel incontinence, you may be referred to a gastroenterologist.

Geriatrician – A doctor who specializes in treating older people. Some geriatricians have advanced training in the treatment and management of incontinence.

Graft Material – The material used most often for prolapse repair is a medical-grade polymer or plastic called polypropylene. This graft material is also used for abdominal and groin hernia repairs.

Gynecologist – A doctor specializing in the reproductive health of women. Some have special interest in the diagnosis and treatment of urinary incontinence and prolapse including surgery and well-woman care.

Hypermobility – Refers to the excessive motion of the urethra due to lack of pelvic muscle support seen in women with stress urinary incontinence.

Hysterectomy – Surgical removal of the uterus, and sometimes the cervix. It may be done as part of a surgery to correct prolapse (although this may not be required), though many other reasons to have a hysterectomy exist. A hysterectomy can be performed through the vagina, through an incision on the abdomen, laparoscopically, or robotically.

Impotence (Erectile Dysfunction) – Inability to achieve or sustain an erection that is satisfactory to engage in sexual intercourse.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome – A disorder of the colon. Symptoms may include abdominal cramping, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.

Kegel Exercises (Pelvic Floor Exercises) – Named after Dr. Arnold Kegel, a German doctor, Kegels are exercises that consist of contracting and relaxing the muscles that form part of the pelvic floor.

Kidney – A pair of organs located in the abdomen that filter the blood and produce urine.

Laparoscopy (Laparoscopic Surgery) – A technique of surgery that utilizes a camera and scope and specialized instruments that allow the surgeon to use small incisions (about half an inch long) to perform surgery that would otherwise require larger incisions. This can be technically challenging, but often offers the patient a quicker recovery after surgery.

Libido – Desire or interest in sexual activity. 

Menopause – Permanent cessation of menstrual cycle.

Micturition – The desire to urinate.

Mixed Urinary Incontinence – The condition where both stress and urge urinary incontinence exist in the same person.

Minimally Invasive Surgery – A set of techniques that are used in surgery to reduce the impact and recovery for patients. Examples include laparoscopy, robotic surgery and many types of vaginal surgery.

Neurogenic Bladder – Loss of bladder control caused by damage to the nerves controlling the bladder.

Nocturia – The need to urinate at night, interrupting sleep.

Overactive Bladder – Bladder dysfunction associated with frequent urination, urinary urgency, urge incontinence, getting up at night to urinate or complication of any of these symptoms.

Overflow Incontinence – A condition in which a person may experience a variety of symptoms, including: a bladder that remains full and leaks urine; an urge to urinate, but an inability to empty the bladder; frequent or constant dribbling; or still feeling like the bladder is full after urinating a small amount. This type of incontinence, caused by weak bladder muscles or a blocked urethra, is rare in women. 

Pelvic Floor Muscles – A set of muscles and other tissues in the lowest part of the pelvis that are very important in providing support to organs such as the bladder, vagina and rectum. The muscles are sometimes called “Kegel muscles” because they are involved in “Kegel” exercises.

Pelvic Floor Reconstruction – A procedure designed to restore strength and integrity to the pelvic floor by addressing the prolapsing organs, one by one, and rebuilding the supporting layer.

Pelvic Organ Prolapse – Occurs when there is loss of normal support in the vagina causing dropping of the bladder, uterus, cervix or rectum. Often when it progresses, patients may feel a vaginal bulge.

Pelvis – The lower portion of the abdomen located between the hips.

Peri-Menopause – The period of time during which menstruation begins to stop, usually occurring between the age of 40-55.

Perineum – The area located between the anus and vagina (female) or anus and scrotum (male).

Pessary (Vaginal Pessary) – A device usually made of plastic (silicone not latex) that is designed to support the vagina from the inside, to correct vaginal prolapse, or, in some cases, to treat urinary incontinence. Many different shapes and sizes exist, with the most commonly used pessaries looking somewhat like a large vaginal contraceptive diaphragm. Pessaries may be slightly challenging to fit (like finding the perfect fit for shoes), and need to be removed for cleaning and inspection on a regular basis, but they can offer a non-surgical alternative to patients with pelvic floor disorders.

Pyelonephritis – Inflammation of the kidney, usually caused by a urinary tract infection.

Rectal Prolapse (Rectocele, pronounced “rekto-seal”) – A condition where the back wall of the vagina sags outward, allowing the rectum to bulge into the vagina.

Rectovaginal Fistula – In this condition, an opening occurs between the rectum and the vagina. Symptoms may include leakage of gas or stool through the vagina and pain and swelling in the rectum.

Rectum – The portion of the colon just above the anus.

Reflex Incontinence – Loss of bladder control related to a problem in the spinal cord.

Retropubic Suspension – Also called the Burch procedure or Burch Colposuspension, this more invasive surgery elevates the urethra and bladder neck to a higher anatomical position, alleviating stress urinary incontinence symptoms.

Robotic-Assisted Surgery – A form of laparoscopic surgery using the da Vinci® Surgical System. Robotic surgery can be used for multiple types of procedures including prolapse surgery, hysterectomy, endometriosis, prostate and kidney surgery.

Sling Procedure (or Suburethral Sling) – A kind of surgery designed to correct stress urinary incontinence. A sling or hammock of material (synthetic mesh, organic materials, etc.) is used to support the urethra and prevent leakage of urine with physical activity.

Small Bowel Prolapse (Enterocele, pronounced “enter-o-seal”) – A pelvic organ prolapse condition in which the small bowel bulges or herniates into the vagina.

Sphincter – A circular band of muscle fibers that can close a natural opening in the bladder.

Stress Test – While coughing or exerting pressure on the bladder, a physician checks for urine loss—a sign that may suggest stress urinary incontinence.

Stress Urinary Incontinence (Stress Incontinence or SUI) – A loss of bladder control caused by weakened or damaged pelvic floor muscles. The lack of support to the urethra results in leaks during physical activities such as laughing, sneezing, or lifting something heavy.

Synthetic Mesh/Synthetic Graft – A type of surgical mesh made from a synthetic or man-made material. It’s designed to be soft, light, porous, and pliable.

Transient Incontinence – Temporary loss of bladder control that is usually resolved when its cause is addressed.

TransUrethral Resection of the Prostate (TURP) – A procedure performed in male patients who develop difficulty urinating caused by blockage from the prostate. 

Underactive Bladder – A bladder that does not contract normally, often leading to urinary retention or incomplete emptying of the bladder.

Ureters – Two tubes connecting the kidneys to the bladder.

Urethra – Tube connecting the bladder to the outside of the body.

Urethral Support Sling – A surgical mesh system that cradles the urethra, providing added support and helping it close more tightly. 

Urgency – A strong desire to relieve the bladder

Urinalysis – A urine sample tested for signs of infection and other causes of incontinence.

Urge Urinary Incontinence (Urge Incontinence) – Leakage of urine that is accompanied by a sudden sense of needing to get to the bathroom to urinate. A common description is “not being able to make it to the bathroom in time” or “not getting your clothes off fast enough before the urine begins to flow out.”

Urinary Frequency – The desire to urinate at short intervals or more than 8 times in a 24-hour period. It may result from increased urine volume, decreased bladder capacity, or lower urinary tract irritation.

Urinary Incontinence – An inability to maintain bladder control.

Urinary Retention – Inability to urinate.

Urinary Sphincter – A ring of muscles that surround the urethra. When constricted, urine is stored in the bladder. When the muscles relax, urine can flow freely through the urethra and out of the body.

Urinary Tract – The system in the body that makes, stores, and discharges urine, including the kidneys, bladder, and urethra.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) – Infection of the kidneys or bladder.

Urodynamic Tests – These tests measure the bladder's ability to hold and release urine, showing how your bladder acts when it is filling and emptying. 

Urogynecologist – Gynecologists or obstetrician/gynecologists (OB/GYN), who specialize in the evaluation and treatment of urinary incontinence and conditions that affect the female pelvic floor; A doctor whose focus includes both female reproductive and urinary tract health.

Urologist – A surgeon who specializes in the urinary conditions of men and women. Many urologists have advanced training in the surgical correction and medical treatments for incontinence; but not as many have experience with nonsurgical treatments such as Kegel (pelvic muscle) exercises, bladder training, biofeedback, electrical stimulation and the use of pelvic support devices or urethral inserts.

Uterine Prolapse – A condition where the upper supports of the vagina and uterus/cervix are weakened, allowing the uterus and cervix to bulge downward and outward.

Uterus – Female reproductive organ, located behind and just above the bladder.

Vagina – Female canal to the uterus, lies behind the bladder and in front of the rectum.

Vaginal Prolapse – A pelvic organ prolapse condition in which pelvic organs shift from their normal positions due to weakened muscles or ligaments and protrude into the vaginal wall. Urinary incontinence is one symptom of vaginal prolapse. 

Vaginal Vault Prolapse – A pelvic organ prolapse condition in which the upper portion of the vagina collapses and descends into the vaginal canal.

Vesicovaginal Fistula – Abnormal connection between the bladder and vagina causing leakage of urine into the vagina.

Voiding – The act of urinating or emptying the bladder.


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