Breaking the Silence
Dr. Sonya Ephraim and her colleagues at The Institute for Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery give hope to women with pelvic floor disorders
by Lindsey Getz

A study performed by Kaiser Permanente found that at least one-third of women suffer from one or more pelvic floor disorders, which include symptoms such as the frequent urge to urinate, dropped pelvic organs and incontinence. While it’s a common issue, many women continue to suffer in silence, assuming the symptoms they’re experiencing are a normal part of aging or childbirth. In reality, there is hope and pioneers like those at The Institute for Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery, with offices in North Wales and Allentown, are truly leading the way.

“There are so many women who suffer in silence with these issues,” says Sonya Ephraim, M.D., who recently joined The Institute for Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery after five years of GYN experience. “They assume it’s normal because maybe their mother or grandmother experienced the same symptoms. While it’s common, it’s not normal, and there are solutions to the problems many of these women live with. My goal is to start more of a dialogue about these issues.”

That desire to help make a difference in women’s lives is something that led her away from general gynecology. Dr. Ephraim says that as much as she loved delivering babies, there has been nothing quite like restoring hope to women who have lost it. Two years ago, she elected to leave her established practice in Chicago and join The Institute for Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery for a fellowship in the field of female pelvic medicine. Upon completing that fellowship, Dr. Ephraim was asked to join the practice.

“It was a blessing to have the opportunity to work with world-renowned physicians like Dr. Miles Murphy and Dr. Vincent Lucente,” Dr. Ephraim says. “And I felt honored that I was invited to join the group. I enjoy taking care of the women that come to our practice.”

With the addition of Dr. Ephraim to the staff, there is the presence of a female touch to the practice. It gives patients the option for a female doctor if there is a preference.

The field of female pelvic medicine is a hybrid between urology and gynecology—truly a specialty. As urogynecologists, Drs. Ephraim, Murphy and Lucente bring a high level of expertise in diagnosing these conditions which may be misdiagnosed or ignored by other doctors.

“One typical issue that arises is when women get sent to a urologist because of incontinence or a frequent urge to go,” Dr. Ephraim says. “A urologist’s focus is really on the urinary tract as opposed to the vagina. We have wonderful relationships with the urologists in our community and often co-manage with them, but in certain situations it is better to have the perspective of a urogynecologist.”

While the average age of a patient coming to The Institute for Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery is in her mid-60s, Dr. Ephraim says patients range from the 20s and up. Common issues the doctors see include all types of pelvic organ prolapse, incontinence, overactive bladder, painful bladder syndromes, fecal incontinence, relaxation of the vagina outlet (from childbearing) and loss of vaginal moisture from menopause.

On the Cutting Edge
Over the years, The Institute for Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery has managed to stay on the cutting edge of the latest medicine and technology in the field of pelvic medicine. Dr. Ephraim wants women who have a pelvic floor condition to know that there are solutions—many of which are noninvasive or minimally invasive—for treating the issue.

“Women are often surprised to learn that a simple, one-hour office procedure can fix an incontinence issue they’ve been living with for a long time,” Dr. Ephraim says.

Among those options include the single incision sling, which is the latest medical procedure for urinary incontinence. This treatment is performed with just a single incision in the vagina, with no exit point through the thigh, making it truly as “minimally invasive as you can get,” Dr. Ephraim explains.  With the sling, the urethra is better supported and able to remain closed—even during a cough or sneeze. It’s proven to be a safe and effective solution.

The MonaLisa Touch, a new innovative laser procedure, is another treatment that’s being offered at The Institute for Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery. This vaginal laser increases collagen and elasticity in a similar way that using an estrogen cream would do. However, many women are skeptical of using vaginal estrogen and find the use of a cream messy and burdensome.

“This procedure is pain free and has worked well for our patients—some are noticing results after just one treatment,” Dr. Ephraim says.

With the availability of these treatments and more, many women are finding hope when they thought there was none. Dr. Ephraim says that’s important, considering quality of life is at hand.

“There are studies that look at chronic disorders affecting quality of life and the only disorder that affects quality of life more than pelvic floor disorders is depression,” says Dr. Ephraim. “While mental health issues tend to get a lot of media attention, pelvic floor disorders do not. I hope to see that change. Women who deal with these issues find it affects so many aspects of their life from their sexuality to their interaction with their family and even their ability to exercise.”

Dr. Ephraim adds that it’s not uncommon for her to hear from patients saying they haven’t left their home due to the stigma of incontinence, but Dr. Ephraim is helping women fight the shame and embarrassment. The ability to restore hope to these women has been her favorite aspect of the job.

“I certainly got a lot of hugs and kisses for delivering babies, but I receive just as many for fixing pelvic floor disorders,” Dr. Ephraim says. “For many women, it’s like getting their life back.”

The Institute for Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery

Abington Physicians at Montgomeryville
1010 Horsham Road (Horsham and Upper State Roads), Suite 101
North Wales, PA 19454

Photograph by Allure West Studios