If you’ve experienced the uncomfortable and disconcerting feelings of vaginal fullness or pressure, you’re not alone. Studies show that up to 40 percent of women have some form of vaginal or pelvic organ prolapse, which occurs when the tissues and muscles holding the pelvic organs (uterus, bladder or rectum) in place become weaker or loose. There are three different compartments of the vagina, and the loss of pelvic support can result in the falling down of one or more of these compartments. This weakening means your organs can drop lower into the vagina, causing the potentially bothersome symptoms.
Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) can range in severity, with some experiencing a small bulge with no other symptoms and others feeling a large bulge and fullness down to the thigh. Pelvic pressure, pelvic pain, pain with intercourse, vaginal bleeding or spotting, urinary incontinence, or the sensation that the bladder or uterus is falling out of the vagina are also tell-tale signs of the condition. While it is rarely life-threatening, pelvic organ prolapse (POP) can have significant consequences on a woman’s quality of life – including normal activities of daily living, sexual function and exercise.
Although women are at greater risk of developing pelvic organ prolapse as they age, this isn’t the only factor. Pregnancy and multiple childbirths, chronic straining from constipation, menopause, genetics, smoking and previous surgeries can all contribute to the condition.
Effective Treatment for POP
There are several basic approaches to treating POP. First is observation, which is the careful watching until symptoms progress to the point where intervention is wanted or needed. POP tends to worsen over time, and you can routinely follow up with your gynecologist or urologist for periodic exams.
Next is non-surgical management which may include medications to ease symptoms of POP. Some women, particularly those who are post-menopause, can benefit from vaginal estrogen to promote vaginal health and reduce dryness. Pelvic floor physical therapy is also effective in strengthening muscles of the pelvic floor, which can ease both symptoms of prolapse and stress urinary incontinence. Weight loss can also reduce the risk of progression by lessening stress on the pelvic floor.
A pessary is another non-invasive device that can be inserted into the vagina to hold pelvic organs in place, minimizing symptoms for women who do not want surgery. If and when these non-surgical treatments have not effectively controlled unwanted symptoms, minimally invasive procedures are available to treat some types of POP. The approach your surgeon recommends depends on your goals, the severity and type of prolapse, your age and other health conditions. Although some find talking about these symptoms embarrassing, openly discussing your concerns with your physician can lead to effective relief.
The vast majority of pelvic and urologic conditions – including pelvic organ prolapse – can be successfully treated. The highly trained pelvic health specialists at CHI Memorial Pelvic Floor and Urological Health provide accurate diagnosis and expert, evidence-based care to address your symptoms. To schedule an appointment, call (423) 541-1125.