In addition, more than a third of older women reported at least one pelvic floor disorder.
Pelvic floor disorders include urinary and fecal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse (when a pelvic organ, such as the uterus, drops [prolapses] from its normal spot and pushes against the walls of the vagina), and other sensory and emptying abnormalities of the lower urinary and gastrointestinal tracts.
The research team led by Dr Ingrid Nygaard analysed the data of 1,961 non-pregnant women (age 20 years or older) who participated in the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The women surveyed underwent standardized physical examinations in a mobile examination centre. Urinary and fecal incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse symptoms were assessed.
It showed that overall, 23.7 percent of women reported symptoms of at least 1 pelvic floor disorder.
Of these, 15.7 percent experienced urinary incontinence, 9.0 percent experienced fecal incontinence and 2.9 percent experienced symptomatic pelvic organ prolapse.
The proportion of women who reported at least 1 pelvic floor disorder increased with age, 9.7 percent in women age 20 to 39 years, 26.5 percent in women age 40 to 59 years, 36.8 percent in women age 60 to 79 years, and 49.7 percent in women age 80 years or older.
Moreover, overweight and obese women were more likely to report at least 1 pelvic floor disorder than normal weight women 26.3 percent for overweight, and 30.4 percent for obese women.
Also, the more children a woman had given birth to increased the likelihood of at least 1 pelvic floor disorder.
"These data represent the first nationwide, population-based estimates of the 3 primary pelvic floor disorders in women in the United States derived from a single source," the authors write.
"By 2030, more than one-fifth of women will be 65 years or older. As the population of older women increases, the national burden related to pelvic floor disorders in terms of health care costs, lost productivity, and decreased quality of life will be substantial," they added.
The study appears in the September 17 issue of JAMA.