Despite the very high prevalence of female pelvic floor disorders (urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse), the biological mechanisms underlying these disorders are uncertain. Epidemiologic studies suggest that childbirth plays an essential role. The long-term research goals of this team are to identify specific obstetrical events associated with pelvic floor disorders and to investigate the biologica mechanisms underlying these associations. In the first period of this award, pelvic floor disorders were shown to be significantly increased after vaginal versus cesarean birth at a single point in time, 5-10 years after first childbirth. Also, pelvic muscle strength was found to e significantly poorer after vaginal versus cesarean birth. Recognizing the critical influence of obstetrical events on the biological pathways leading to pelvic floor disorders, the goals of this proposal are to describe changes over time in pelvic floor disorders and to investigate the extent to which these changes are affected by childbirth and by pelvic muscle weakness.
The specific aims of the current application are:
AIM 1 : to investigate the effect of obstetrical exposures on the incidence and progression of pelvic floor disorders and AIM 2: to investigate the effect of pelvic muscle weakness on the progression of pelvic floor disorders.
These aims will be accomplished via annual surveillance of an established cohort of >1300 parous women (plus additional participants recruited annually). Using data from validated questionnaires and physical examinations, the severity of pelvic floor disorders will be measured annually. The exposures of interest will include obstetrical events (vaginal versus cesarean birth, forceps delivery, episiotomy and perineal laceration) and pelvic muscle strength (measured in this cohort at the end of the first funding cycle, using a validated tool). Analysis will focus on factos associated with disease progression over time as well as the prognosis for women with mild pelvic floor disorders. Novel aspects of this research include the focus on measures of disease severity over time, analytical methods that consider heterogeneity of effect, and the opportunity to prospectively examine the impact of pelvic muscle weakness. The proposed research is significant because it will provide critical information about the natural history of pelvic floor disorders and identify the most important obstetrical antecedents. Thus, the findings will identify women at greatest risk for pelvic floor disorders and will serve as a foundation for prevention trials. Also, pelvic muscle weakness may prove to be a novel target for therapeutic intervention. Finally, results are expected to advance science by guiding future translational research on pathophysiology of pelvic floor disorders. Given the high prevalence of pelvic floor disorders and the high incidence of surgical treatment for these conditions, prevention is critical to reduce the public health burden of pelvic floor disorders among U.S. women.

Public Health Relevance

Childbirth substantially increases a woman's risk to develop prolapse of the pelvic organs and loss of bladder control. Given that these conditions are quite common and treatment isn't always effective, prevention is critical. The research proposed in this application will distinguish aspects of childbirth associated with the greatest risk, and is expected to identify potential opportunities for prevention.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Application #
Study Section
Infectious Diseases, Reproductive Health, Asthma and Pulmonary Conditions Study Section (IRAP)
Program Officer
Parrott, Estella C
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Johns Hopkins University
Obstetrics & Gynecology
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Handa, Victoria L; Blomquist, Joan L; Roem, Jennifer et al. (2017) Longitudinal study of quantitative changes in pelvic organ support among parous women. Am J Obstet Gynecol :
Bossano, Carla M; Townsend, Kelly M; Walton, Alexandra C et al. (2017) The maternal childbirth experience more than a decade after delivery. Am J Obstet Gynecol 217:342.e1-342.e8
Handa, Victoria L; Mu?oz, Alvaro; Blomquist, Joan L (2017) Temporal relationship between posterior vaginal prolapse and defecatory symptoms. Am J Obstet Gynecol 216:390.e1-390.e6
Hallock, Jennifer L; Handa, Victoria L (2016) The Epidemiology of Pelvic Floor Disorders and Childbirth: An Update. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am 43:1-13
Fitzgerald, Jocelyn; Pierce, Christopher; Nugent, Joann et al. (2016) Care-Seeking for Stress Incontinence and Overactive Bladder Among Parous Women in the First Two Decades After Delivery. Female Pelvic Med Reconstr Surg 22:199-204
Memon, Hafsa U; Blomquist, Joan L; Dietz, Hans P et al. (2015) Comparison of levator ani muscle avulsion injury after forceps-assisted and vacuum-assisted vaginal childbirth. Obstet Gynecol 125:1080-7
Chen, Crystal; Smith, LaPortia J; Pierce, Christopher B et al. (2015) Do symptoms of pelvic floor disorders bias maternal recall of obstetrical events up to 10 years after delivery? Female Pelvic Med Reconstr Surg 21:129-34
Handa, Victoria L; Pierce, Christopher B; Muñoz, Alvaro et al. (2015) Longitudinal changes in overactive bladder and stress incontinence among parous women. Neurourol Urodyn 34:356-61
Evers, E C; McDermott, K C; Blomquist, J L et al. (2014) Mode of delivery and subsequent fertility. Hum Reprod 29:2569-74
Blomquist, Joan L; McDermott, Kelly; Handa, Victoria L (2014) Pelvic pain and mode of delivery. Am J Obstet Gynecol 210:423.e1-6

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