According to womenshealth.gov, pelvic organ prolapse (POP) affects roughly 20% (one in 5) of women in the United States. However, many women are reluctant to discuss its effects with their healthcare professionals because either they are too embarrassed OR they simply feel like it’s best to “grin and bear it.”
Prolapse occurs when connective tissue in the pelvic cavity weaken and organs (uterus, bladder, urethra, rectum, cervix, or vaginal canal) begin to sag or sink down in response to gravity. Over time, and without correction, these organs can press uncomfortably on – or even through – the vagina.
Read, Strengthening the Pelvic Floor, for exercises and tips you can implement right now to prevent – or support – any weakness or prolapse in your pelvis.
Early Diagnosis Means Less Invasive Treatment
While there are cases of asymptomatic POP, most women notice the earlier signs of the condition – which is the best time to address them. In most cases, mild to moderate cases can be treated with specific exercises, physical therapy or a combination of both. If pelvic organ prolapse continues to worsen, women may require surgical intervention, including the potential of a partial or full hysterectomy.
Recognize These Common Symptoms of Pelvic Organ Prolapse?
Here are some of the most common symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse. If you have even a single one of these, make sure to mention it to your healthcare professional during your annual well-woman appointment. If your symptoms are more than mild, schedule an appointment ASAP to discuss your options. Working with a physical therapist specializing in POP can offer dramatic, non-surgical corrections.
Common symptoms of POP include:
- Urinary incontinence. We can’t reiterate enough that urinary incontinence is never normal. It should always be evaluated by a professional. Feeling like you need to urinate more frequently is also common.
- Difficulty with bowel movements and constipation. Similarly, prolapse can put pressure on – or change the shape of – the lower g.i. tract and rectum, causing difficulty with bowel movements.
- Painful intercourse. When the organs begin to prolapse, they press down on the bladder and/or the vagina. This pushes everything down – which means you may feel a very tender and/or painful pressure during intercourse when your partner’s penis or any toys used for penetration push into the compromised vagina and cervix.
- Pelvic pressure. Women with pelvic organ prolapse often notice their pelvis feels full or they experience pressure in their pelvis when they cough or stand for long periods at a time. Lifting heavier objects also exacerbates this sensation. You may also experience a feeling or pressure or pain in the lower back.
The risk factors for developing pelvic organ prolapse are:
- Advanced age. Older women and post-menopausal women are the most likely to be diagnosed.
- Race. Caucasian women and women of Hispanic descent have higher rates of POP.
- Pregnancy/birth. Women who’ve carried a baby and given birth are diagnosed more often than women who’ve never given birth before.
- Being overweight or obese
- Conditions that cause chronic coughing, especially smoking
Pelvic Organ Prolapse is Treatable
Fortunately, POP is treatable – but the sooner the better since the goal is to avoid more severe prolapse, where the pelvic organs push partially or fully through the vagina. At that point, surgery is a necessity.
Non-surgical treatment for pelvic organ prolapse includes:
- Physical therapy – with an emphasis on pelvic strengthening exercises
- Vaginal pessary – a diaphragm-like, silicone device that is inserted up into the vagina, providing structural support for the vagina and the pelvic floor by preventing prolapsing organs from pressing through.
If you do have pelvic organ prolapse, your OB/GYN can discuss the range of treatment options with you to establish with one has the greatest benefits and lowest chance of risk for you and your lifestyle.