Half of US women suffer from pelvic support problems by age 80. Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) occurs when the muscles and ligaments supporting the pelvic organs weaken. This causes the pelvic organs, including the bladder (cystocele), rectum (rectocele), uterus or vagina (uterine or vaginal vault prolapse) to slip out of place.
As women age, their risk of developing pelvic prolapse increases. Pelvic prolapse occurs when pelvic muscles weaken and organs in the pelvic area, such as the bladder, urethra, small intestine, or rectum drop into the vagina.
Causes and Symptoms
While many factors contribute to pelvic prolapse, the process often begins with a woman vaginally delivering a baby.
When the baby travels through the birth canal, it stretches the pelvic support system. This stretching becomes more pronounced with each delivery. Other contributors to pelvic prolapse are smoking, chronic bronchitis, obesity, diabetes, and a family history of prolapse.
Years after childbirth, loss of muscle tone and relaxation of muscles due to menopause and natural aging can cause prolapse to progress and cause symptoms including:
- Difficulty having a bowel movement
- Pain during intercourse
- Heaviness, aching or a pulling sensation in the lower abdomen
In severe cases, the cervix or other internal organs may actually bulge through the opening of the vagina.
Pelvic organ prolapse treatment options range from pelvic floor strengthening exercises (Kegels) and vaginal inserts (pessaries) to a broad array of minimally invasive vaginal and laparoscopic approaches. Nonsurgical treatments such as pessaries, which are plastic devices placed inside the vagina, may help support the internal organs and reduce prolapse symptoms.
However, if prolapse is severely disrupting your life, you may want to talk to your doctor about pelvic reconstructive surgery. Complications are uncommon, with high success rates and with many procedures now done vaginally instead of through abdominal incision, hospital stays and recovery time for most women are greatly decreased.
National Center for Advanced Pelvic Surgery
Physicians Office Building
106 Irving Street, N.W.
Suite POB 405 South
Washington, D.C. 20010-2975
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One in three women suffers from pelvic floor disorder.