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Women's Health

Pelvic Organ Prolapse: A Common Condition That Doesn’t Need To Disrupt Your Life

Published: July 1, 2021

Pelvic organ prolapse is more common than you might think. Some studies estimate that up to 50% of women over age 50 suffer some degree of pelvic organ prolapse in their lives. For many women, treatment is never needed. But others suffer from urinary leakage, constipation, back pain and painful intercourse – all symptoms that can affect their quality of life and cause embarrassment.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse, you’re not alone. You also don’t have to grin and bear it for the rest of your life. There are many treatment options to get you back to doing the things you love.

 

What Is Pelvic Organ Prolapse?

Pelvic organ prolapse is when the muscles and tissues that support the pelvic organs weaken, causing one or more pelvic organs – most commonly the bladder, rectum or uterus – to drop into or out of the vagina. Pelvic organ prolapse and other pelvic floor disorders are more common as women age.

Risk factors include:

  • Vaginal childbirth
  • Giving birth to a baby weighing more than 8 ½ pounds
  • Use of forceps during delivery
  • Older maternal age at first birth
  • Family history
  • Strain on the abdomen caused by chronic constipation or coughing, obesity, or routine heavy lifting

Symptoms include:

  • Feeling discomfort, pressure or fullness in the pelvis or vagina
  • Urinary leakage, difficulty starting urination or frequent urinary tract infections
  • Difficult bowel movements
  • A bulge near the opening of the vagina
  • Lower back pain

Pelvic organ prolapse isn’t dangerous but can cause discomfort. You may want to seek treatment if the prolapse is large, causes pain or begins impeding your ability to empty your bladder or bowels.

 

Prevention and Treatment

If you’re at risk for pelvic organ prolapse, there are steps you can take to strengthen your pelvic floor and prevent more serious problems as you age.

Prevention steps include:

  • Avoiding smoking to reduce chronic coughing
  • A high-fiber diet to avoid constipation
  • Kegel exercises
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Pelvic floor physical therapy after vaginal birth

You may not need treatment for a pelvic organ prolapse at all. Other treatments are similar to the prevention techniques – pelvic floor physical therapy and better diet. You may also need a pessary – a removable device inserted into the vagina to support the uterus or vaginal walls.

About 12% of women have surgery to treat pelvic organ prolapse, and there are several minimally invasive surgery options depending on the location of the prolapse. Surgery isn’t for everyone, and it only repairs the tissue bulge – not the weakened tissues that led to the problem. Like a hernia, a pelvic organ prolapse can occur again. But for women with a prolapse that’s disrupted their routine or intimacy with their partner, surgery can help improve their quality of life.

 

You Are Not Alone

Remember: Pelvic organ prolapse is common and treatable. You don’t have to suffer through painful or embarrassing symptoms in silence. If you’re experiencing a symptom of pelvic organ prolapse, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider. You may need to be referred to a urogynecologist. We specialize in evaluating and treating pelvic floor disorders so that you can get back to your active lifestyle.

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About the Author

Dr. Jessica Bracken is a doctor specializing in urogynecology at Methodist Physicians Clinic. She is a firm believer in treating everyone with kindness, dignity, and respect. This philosophy translates into her care of patients. Since she practices in a field where certain topics can be uncomfortable to talk about, it's Dr. Bracken’s mission to understand her patients and learn what she can do to not only treat them, but to make the entire process as comfortable as possible.

See more articles from Jessica Bracken, MD
Dr. Jessica Bracken