What is a Pelvic Organ Prolapse?

What is a Pelvic Organ Prolapse?
Have you ever had the feeling that something is “falling out” – in places where it should not feel that way? If so, you may have a pelvic organ prolapse (POP). When the muscles of the pelvic floor and the connective tissue that surround it are weak and cannot give support to the organs that lie above them, they will drop down. This is referred to as a pelvic organ prolapse.

Which organs fall out of place with a pelvic organ prolapse?

The pelvic organs include the uterus, bladder and rectum. Without support, any one of these can start to drop down.

What causes a pelvic organ prolapse?

The main causes of a pelvic organ prolapse are pregnancy and vaginal childbirth, which can weaken muscles of the pelvic floor. Other causes include menopause, aging and repeated heavy lifting. There are also physical conditions that can create pressure on the abdomen which can cause a pelvic organ prolapse, such as obesity, constipation, physical straining during bowel movements and chronic coughing, which can be brought on by smoking, asthma or other medical conditions. A pelvic organ prolapse can occur at any age, but most women who develop symptoms do so after menopause.

What are the symptoms of a pelvic organ prolapse?

When a pelvic organ prolapse is mild, you may not notice anything at all. Sometimes, a bulge can be felt inside the vagina. For severe cases of a pelvic organ prolapse, organs may push out of the vaginal opening. Here are some of the specific symptoms of a pelvic organ prolapse:

  • Feeling of pelvic pressure or fullness in the pelvic area
  • Organs bulging out of the vagina
  • Leakage of urine (urinary incontinence)
  • Difficulty emptying the bladder
  • Difficulty having bowel movements
  • Lower back pain
  • Problems with inserting tampons or applicators
  • Is surgery required to fix a pelvic organ prolapse?

Surgery is not usually the first course of treatment for a pelvic organ prolapse. Here are some things that can be tried before surgery:

  • Changes in diet and lifestyle may be helpful in relieving some symptoms. If urinary incontinence is a problem, limiting excessive fluid intake and altering the types of fluid consumed may be helpful. For example, decreasing alcohol and drinks that contain caffeine may provide some relief.
  • If bowel problems are an issue, increasing the amount of fiber in your diet can prevent constipation and straining during bowel movements.
  • If you are overweight or obese, weight loss can help improve overall health and reduce prolapse symptoms.
  • Does exercise help a pelvic organ prolapse?
  • Pelvic floor exercises performed regularly may improve incontinence and may slow the progression of a pelvic organ prolapse. A health care professional or physical therapist can help ensure that these exercises are being performed correctly.

Is there anything else that can help with a pelvic organ prolapse?

Some physicians recommend a pessary, which is a device that is inserted into the vagina to support the pelvic organs. Many women find immediate relief from their symptoms with pessary use. Pessaries are available in many shapes and sizes. They can be used for short-term or long-term treatment. Pessary choice is based on a woman’s symptoms and the type of prolapse.

Can surgery correct pelvic support problems?

If all else fails, surgery may relieve some symptoms. In general, there are two types of surgery: surgery to repair the pelvic floor; and surgery to shorten, narrow or close off the vagina.

It is always recommended that you meet with your primary care physician, urologist or gynecologist, whenever you have any questions or concerns regarding any health-related issues.

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