Childbirth and aging can both wreak havoc on a woman’s body. Several organs and tissues are all located in the abdomen, from the bladder and bowels to the reproductive organs—there’s a lot going on and a lot that needs to be held together. Although it’s natural that growing a child in the womb puts pressure on the female organs and tissues for a prolonged time during pregnancy, it can result in some long-term problems down the road.
It’s not uncommon for women to experience bladder incontinence after having children, especially as she approaches menopause. In fact, one in five women deals with a pelvic floor disorder. Pelvic floor disorders are a group of medical conditions that include both urinary and fecal incontinence, as well as pelvic organ prolapse. In this blog, our team of Las Vegas gynecologists at My Virtual Physician takes a look at pelvic organ prolapse, a condition that some of our patients face.
Pelvic organ prolapse is similar to a hernia, where internal organs move through weakened tissues and out of their normal position. This leaves the organs vulnerable and may require surgery to correct. Women with pelvic organ prolapse have weakened muscles, tissues, and ligaments that are no longer able to hold organs, including the bladder, cervix, uterus, urethra, and rectum, in place. The result can be organs protruding into the vagina, and sometimes even out the opening.
There are different types of pelvic organ prolapse (POP), depending on which organ is bulging into the vagina. The most common prolapsed pelvic organ is the bladder; this type of POP is called cystocele, or dropped bladder. Other common types are rectocele, which involves the rectum, and uterine prolapse, involving the uterus. Although pelvic organ prolapse sounds extremely alarming, it’s not life-threatening.
There are four stages of pelvic organ prolapse:
So now that we’ve defined pelvic organ prolapse, let’s talk about who is at a higher risk for the condition. By and far, it’s older women who have birthed children who commonly suffer this type of prolapse. Other than age and childbirth, a few other factors that increase your risk of POP include a family history, an existing connective tissue disorder, obesity, sustained heavy lifting, prior pelvic surgery, chronic cough, smoking, and frequent constipation.
Strangely, most women with pelvic organ prolapse don’t have symptoms. Often, the condition is identified by a gynecologist during a regularly scheduled pelvic exam. If it’s not caught during a regular exam, patients sometimes don’t notice anything until they are in stage three, when they notice tissue protruding outside the vagina.
Some women do have signs and symptoms of POP, such as:
If you notice any of the above signs of pelvic organ prolapse, get in touch with our Las Vegas Gynecology team at My Virtual Physician to discuss the severity and start a treatment action plan.
When discovered early on, pelvic organ prolapse can be treated without surgery. Common treatment plans include pelvic floor strengthening exercises, also known as Kegels. These can be done at home to increase vaginal muscle tone and keep organs in their place, preventing your prolapse from progressing further.
The other non-surgical treatment for POP involves a pessary. Pessaries are supportive medical devices that can be placed into the vagina in order to provide more structure and keep your anatomy properly aligned. These devices can also help with urinary incontinence. Talk to your doctor if you are interested in seeing if a pessary works for you. My Virtual Physician has partnered with Uresta, a type of pessary that helps patients with stress incontinence. Your doctor can help you find the best pessary for your particular prolapse.
If your pelvic organ prolapse cannot be corrected with pelvic exercises or a pessary, it may require surgery to restore your anatomy. Reconstructive pelvic surgery is recommended for women whose quality of life is affected by their prolapsed organ.
Pelvic organ prolapse can be an embarrassing condition; often kept in secret. But if you’re suffering from the condition at any stage, the first step is to notice the signs and talk with your doctor about your symptoms. My Virtual Physician has board-certified gynecologists standing by to help you correct your prolapse and get you on your way to getting your life back.