By Heather Abraham

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – As many as three out of five women have it, but many of them don’t even know it.

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It’s a condition called Diastasis Recti Abdominis. Some people call it “mommy belly” or “mommy tummy.” However, this has nothing to do with weight.

More than two years after having her son, Katherine Hill said people still ask her if she’s pregnant.

Despite her athletic lifestyle, Hill hasn’t been able to get her flat stomach back. She knew something was wrong when simple day-to-day tasks like loading the dishwasher or bathing her son were all of a sudden painful.

“I had to stop and take a break, when I was doing the dishes or giving my baby a bath. Just the lean, slight lean over the tub or sink was causing me problem,” she said.

Diastasis Recti Abdominis is a vertical gap between your ab muscles.

Dr. Kenneth Shestak is the Chief of Plastic Surgery at Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC. He sees patients who have D.R.A.

“Many people who are pregnant for the first time have a little bit of it. The second pregnancy seems to make the problem more evident,” Dr. Shestak said.

During pregnancy, as a woman’s belly grows, her abs expand.

Normally, what’s known as the “six-pack” muscles are in the center of your abdomen.

During pregnancy, they wind up moving a little bit to the sides, taking away the structure and support from the abdominal wall.

After pregnancy, when the belly goes back to normal, it causes a slight bulge that just won’t go away, no matter how hard a person diets and exercises.

Hill thought she could just walk off the bulge, but her doctor said she needed to see a specialist.

For many people, that means seeing a physical therapist who specializes in D.R.A. who can help with specific techniques to repair the muscles.

“There are five muscles paired muscles that work together and if you can strengthen the other muscles many times you can see an improvement in that separation,” Dr. Shestak said.

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In extreme cases, surgery is needed.

“What we tend to see are people who’ve really worked hard to try to do it without surgery and still have a bulge in the mid-portion of the abdomen,” Dr. Shestak said.

And, it’s not just moms who suffer from this.

Dr. Shestak said he sees it frequently in patients who’ve gained a lot of weight.

Also, men who do a lot of weight lifting can sometimes get it.

While D.R.A. is not life-threatening, it’s not something you want to let go.

“If left to its own devices and it progresses, there can be problems with back pain, discomfort when getting out of a chair, arising from a sitting position to a standing position,” Dr. Shestak said.

An ultrasound is the most accurate way to diagnose D.R.A., but you can do a self-test by checking three spots near your belly button.

Following Hill’s diagnosis, she started seeing a physical therapist.

After more than two years of therapy and a regimen of at home workouts, she’s seen an improvement.

“My Diastasis is a V shape, and at the top it was three finger widths wide. Now, it’s down to just one finger width wide,” Hill said.

It doesn’t really cause her much pain anymore, and she’s no longer bothered by how it looks.

“It is what it is. I’m comfortable with my body, I know something’s there and I need to keep working on it,” Hill said.

For people who do have to have surgery for this, Dr, Shestak said recovery time is fairly quick these days thanks to advancements in how they do the operation.

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He said the procedure not only treats the underlying muscle problem, but also helps improve the shape and contour of the abdomen.

Heather Abraham