The idea of your organs protruding out of your body might sound like a scene from a bad horror movie but the truth of the matter is that it can happen to women as we age, and it doesn’t come with a lot of blood or gore. In fact, pelvic organ prolapse can sneak up on you and leave you confused and concerned.
But as scary as pelvic organ prolapse might seem, there is no need to panic or feel embarrassed– it is treatable, preventable, and fairly common.
Pelvic Organ Prolapse
Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when the pelvic floor muscles weaken, allowing one or more of your pelvic organs (bladder, uterus and cervix, vagina, and rectum) to push into or protrude out of the vagina.
There are four different types of pelvic organ prolapse and each one is named after the organ that is affected:
- Cystocele prolapse – when the bladder protrudes into the vagina. This is the most common form of pelvic organ prolapse
- Rectocele prolapse – when the rectum pushes into the back of the vagina.
- Enterocele prolapse – when the small intestine drops and pushes into the vagina.
- Uterine prolapse – when the uterus drops into the vagina.
So how do you know if you are experiencing pelvic organ prolapse? And how do you know which type of prolapse you have?
Symptoms of Pelvic Organ Prolapse
If you are experiencing pelvic organ prolapse, you might notice the following symptoms:
- A sensation of a bulge or protrusion in your vagina
- Seeing or feeling a bulge outside of your vagina
- Pressure or heaviness in your vagina
- Urinary or bowel incontinence
- Frequent urination
- Feeling of urgency
- Straining during defecation
- Pain during sex
- Decreased sexual desire
- Pain in your lower back or pelvis
- Difficulty inserting tampons
If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, reach out to your doctor to learn more about possible causes and solutions.
Causes of Pelvic Organ Prolapse
There are a variety of factors that can increase your risk of pelvic organ prolapse, including:
- Young age at first delivery
- Family history / genetics
- Advancing age
The most common cause of pelvic organ prolapse is pregnancy. Pregnancy creates a huge amount of pressure on your pelvic floor muscles, straining and weakening them. However, the risk of pelvic organ prolapse won’t and shouldn’t stop you from having children if you want to. There are a variety of preventative exercises to protect yourself and re-strengthen your pelvic floor muscles including highly successful treatment options should you experience pelvic organ prolapse in the future.
Treatment and Prevention
One of the best ways to prevent pelvic organ prolapse is to maintain the strength of your pelvic floor. Kegel exercises are a great way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. To start, locate your pelvic floor muscles by inserting a finger into your vagina and squeezing your vaginal muscles around it. Once you have located your pelvic floor muscles, spend a few minutes each day squeezing, holding, and then releasing these muscles in order to strengthen this area.
If you have already begun experiencing the symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse, your doctor might recommend treatment either with pessaries or surgery. Pessaries are small, silicone implants that your doctor will insert into your vagina to support and reinforce the prolapsed area. Pessaries require follow-up visits with your doctor to ensure they are positioned correctly but the side effects are minimal and offer an alternative to surgical intervention.
Surgical intervention may be required for more extreme cases of pelvic organ prolapse. Typically, during surgery, a medical mesh or your own body tissue is used to support the prolapsed area and relieve pressure on that affected area of the vagina. Depending on the severity and the kind of prolapse you are experiencing, your doctor may also suggest a hysterectomy. Pelvic organ prolapse surgeries have a high success rate, around 80% to 90%.
Tying it all together
Pelvic organ prolapse, while shocking and scary, is very treatable and preventable. Maintain the strength of your pelvic floor muscles through regular exercise and don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor if you start to notice any of the symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse listed above.