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Saint Mary’s researcher awarded national fellowship to explore the effects of childbirth on sensation and the link with pelvic floor dysfunction

Dr Charlotte Mahoney, Clinical Research Fellow in Urogynaecology at Saint Mary's Hospital, has been awarded a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Doctoral Research Fellowship to investigate the impact of childbirth on sensation and how this relates to symptoms of prolapse, urinary and faecal incontinence and sexual difficulties, collectively called pelvic floor dysfunction.

The NIHR Fellowship is awarded to individuals who show outstanding potential early in their research careers and will support Dr Mahoney in completing her PhD on this topic.

Pelvic floor dysfunction impairs the quality of life of over one third of women and can have debilitating symptoms such as isolation, relationship breakdown, employment limitations, and loss of independence. Despite this and the rising economic cost of treatment, it remains a neglected area of women's health and an important public health issue.

Research to date has demonstrated that vaginal birth damages the nerve supply to the muscles of the pelvic floor, called motor nerves. However, the pelvic floor also contains sensory nerves, which transmit sensation, and it is likely these sensory nerves are also damaged during childbirth.  So far only motor nerves have been studied in detail and there is little information about sensory nerve damage.

This project will use neurophysiological tests to explore sensory nerve function following childbirth and link this to symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, as well as identify potential obstetric risk factors that could be modified to reduce childbirth related nerve injury in the future.

Dr Mahoney explains the importance of this research: "Award of this NIHR fellowship will provide me with the opportunity for dedicated research time to focus on this understudied but widespread area of women's health. There is often a stigma associated with pelvic floor dysfunction and women can feel embarrassed discussing their symptoms and seeking treatment. By conducting this research, we hope to find the answers on how sensory damage during childbirth can affect pelvic floor function and publish factual information that will help both medical staff and patients."