Schoolgirls should be taught pelvic floor exercises during sex education to prevent the need for surgery in later life, official guidance reveals.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) says that girls as young as 12 should learn about how to prevent pelvic floor dysfunction, which affects thousands of women each year.
The new draft guidance states that girls should be given lessons about the pelvic floor, including its anatomy, possibly as an addition to classes on sex and relationships.
Pelvic floor dysfunction covers a variety of symptoms including urinary and faecal incontinence, emptying disorders of the bladder or bowel, pelvic organ prolapse, sexual dysfunction and chronic pelvic pain.
It is more likely to happen as women get older, but contributing factors can include pregnancy, childbirth and lack of exercise.
The new guidance says women of all ages should be encouraged to do pelvic floor muscle training to help prevent the condition.
For those with a mother or sister with pelvic floor dysfunction, a three-month programme of supervised pelvic floor muscle training should be offered from week 20 of pregnancy.
This programme may also be offered post-birth to women at higher risk, such as those who have had some types of assisted deliveries.
Training could help 140,000 women per year
Up to 140,000 women per year could benefit from this preventative strategy, according to Nice.
Professor Gillian Leng, chief executive of Nice, said: "Pelvic floor dysfunction is a common and often debilitating set of symptoms that can result in many issues for women.
"This draft guideline aims to raise awareness of non-surgical management options so that women are better informed about effective options to address pelvic floor dysfunction.
"Improving women’s awareness of pelvic floor health and encouraging them to practise pelvic floor muscle exercises throughout their lives is the most effective way to prevent pelvic floor dysfunction.
"We are keen to hear views from stakeholders and the wider community on these draft recommendations and would encourage as many organisations and people as possible to contribute to the consultation."
The guideline also says women should be told that exercise and a balanced diet can help prevent pelvic floor dysfunction.
Wide-ranging information on the condition should also be made available across different health settings.