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Pelvic and Bladder Health Research

Our robust research program in women’s health outcomes, epidemiology and pelvic floor disorders — incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, etc. — is led by Victoria Handa, whose research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health since 2004. Current scientific studies focus on the association between childbirth and the later development of gynecologic conditions, including pelvic organ prolapse.

Mothers’ Outcomes After Delivery Study

Since 2008, Handa has led the Mothers’ Outcomes After Delivery study, which investigates whether health problems are affected by the events that occur during pregnancy and delivery. A particular focus is on the impacts of cesarean and vaginal birth on the long-term health of the mother.

With nearly 1,500 women participating in the study, Handa and her colleagues demonstrated that the odds of developing uterine and vaginal prolapse are five times higher after vaginal delivery versus cesarean delivery. Her team also found that delivery by forceps further increases the risk. Additional health outcomes addressed by Handa’s research team include the development of obesity after childbirth, fertility problems, breast-feeding success, pelvic muscle strength, menstrual problems and pelvic pain. This research has led to many important scientific findings and a 2011 award from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Handa and her colleagues are currently investigating the reasons why childbirth is such a powerful risk factor for the development of prolapse, including the role of pelvic floor muscle injury at the time of delivery. In the next phase of her research, she plans to use a novel type of 3-D ultrasound to study pelvic muscle structure and function.