Pelvic Organ Prolapse

What is Pelvic Organ Prolapse?

Pelvic Organ Prolapse will happen whenever a pelvic organ, such as the rectum, small bowel, vagina, uterus, urethra, or bladder, drops from its normal position within the lower belly. When this drop occurs, the organ ends up pushing against the vaginal walls.

This condition could occur when the muscles responsible for holding pelvic organs in place become stretched or weak from surgery or childbirth. This results in pain and discomfort, and more than one organ could end up prolapsing at the same time.

What are the Symptoms of Pelvic Organ Prolapse?

Pelvic organ prolapse can cause several symptoms. These include:

  • A feeling of pressure that comes from the organs pushing against the vaginal wall
  • The feeling that something is coming out of the vagina
  • A full feeling within the lower belly
  • A stretching or pulling feeling within the groin area
  • Incontinence, or having the need to urinate very often
  • Painful sex
  • Constipation and other bowel problems

Pelvic Organ Prolapse Causes

The primary cause of pelvic organ prolapse is weakness of the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is a band of muscles and ligaments which supports the pelvic organs and helps to control the muscles in the vagina and the rectum. If the pelvic floor becomes weak, the pelvic organs can drop towards the vaginal canal.

One of the most common causes of pelvic floor weakness is vaginal childbirth. During labor, the pelvic floor is forced to stretch to allow the baby to travel through the vagina. It is this extreme stretching of the pelvic floor which causes it to weaken. Sometimes muscles and ligaments in the pelvic floor can be torn, which further weakens it.

There are other factors involved in pelvic floor weakness, however. Some women may simply be genetically predisposed to having weaker tissues which could make them more likely to develop prolapse. For example, research has shown that Caucasian women are more likely to develop pelvic organ prolapse than African American women.

It’s also possible to develop weakness in the pelvic floor due to injury other than childbirth. Women who have undergone previous surgery on the pelvic region, have suffered trauma such as a fractured pelvis, or undergone radiation for cancer in the pelvic region are all more likely to develop prolapse. It’s also possible for hysterectomy to lead to prolapse, since the removal of some pelvic organs can result in others not being adequately supported.

How is Pelvic Organ Prolapse Treated?

If your symptoms are mild, watchful waiting and home care may be all that’s needed to treat your pelvic organ prolapse. For example, you can try Kegel exercises to strengthen the appropriate muscles, you can maintain a healthy weight, and you can avoid lifting heavy objects, especially if it is going to put strain on the pelvic region.

To treat symptoms, your doctor might also fit you with a pessary. This is a removable device that’s placed in the vagina. It is designed to relieve pressure and pain by holding the organs in place.

For severe cases of pelvic organ prolapse, surgery might be recommended.

Pelvic Organ Prolapse Prevention

Doing daily pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegels, can help to strengthen the pelvic floor and prevent pelvic organ prolapse. This is particularly important for women who have had children or have sustained injury or trauma to the pelvic region.

It’s also important to avoid lifestyle factors which can contribute to pelvic floor weakness. Smoking is strongly linked with weak pelvic floor muscles because it affects healthy blood flow, and therefore prevents the healing of tissues throughout the body. It can also cause chronic coughing which puts pressure on the pelvic floor. Similarly, obesity can contribute to pelvic organ prolapse due to the fact that extra weight puts added pressure on the pelvic floor, causing it to weaken.

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Last Reviewed:
October 08, 2016
Last Updated:
December 22, 2017