Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Pelvic Organ Prolapse or POP is a condition that affects women who have given birth. The condition exclusively affects women because of the nature of the female anatomy in relation to childbirth and other bodily changes that occur with age. When POP occurs, a woman may feel as though there is pressure on her vagina or lower abdomen, leading to mild or severe discomfort or pain. Statistics show that most women will experience some form of POP after giving birth. However, the symptoms do not occur immediately after giving birth but rather appear after up to a year post-delivery.

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More About Pelvic Organ Prolapse

When a woman gives birth, the strain her body undergoes sometimes damages the muscles and tissue that hold her organs in place. These muscles, when working properly, keep the pelvic organs from descending into the lower pelvic region. With the damage, the organs gradually drop towards the lower pelvic region and come to settle on the upper wall of the vagina. This creates a sense of fullness and pressure. In some cases, this pressure can cause pain either when urinating or having sex. Postmenopausal women may also get it even if they have not given birth.

More About Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Causes and Risk Factors for Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Pelvic organ prolapse is associated with bodily changes that come with childbirth and/or age. If you are about to give birth or have given birth in the past, then you may be susceptible to the condition. There have also been studies that indicate the condition may also be hereditary. Generally, there are three main causes of pelvic organ prolapse:

  • Childbirth – The strain that comes with childbirth can distend or damage the muscles that keep your organs in place leading to pelvic organ prolapse after childbirth.
  • Age – As you age, your muscles may weaken and lose their ability to keep your organs in place.
  • Hysterectomy – Surgical removal of the uterus can also lead to POP.

Risk Factors

While risk factors associated with known causes of POP are ever-present, there are other risk factors that seem to contribute to the occurrence of POP. These can also affect women who have not given birth.

They include:

  • Obesity – If you are extremely overweight, the weight can push down on your organs and cause POP.
  • A chronic cough – The pressure of coughing can weaken your abdominal muscles and lead to your organs descending.
  • Constipation – Because of the pressure exerted when trying to relieve yourself, abdominal muscles may become overstretched and weakened.
  • Tumors – Any tumors in your pelvic area and especially on your pelvic organs can lead to POP.

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How to Manage Pelvic Organ Prolapse

It is possible to prevent or manage POP by taking steps to strengthen your abdominal muscles and mitigate any risk factors associated with POP. While these steps are effective, they cannot eliminate the chances of POP occurring, especially after childbirth.

Here are some steps you can take to prevent or lower the chances of getting POP:

  • Strengthen your pelvic muscles – This can be done by regularly performing Kegel exercises.
  • Do sit-ups – Sit-ups strengthen your core muscles and may help prevent POP. It is important to note that POP involves smooth muscles (involuntary) while the muscles you exercise during sit-ups are skeletal muscles (voluntary).
  • Manage constipation – If you have regular constipation, consider managing it to prevent straining your organ muscles and tissue. You can do this by eating plenty of high-fiber foods, drinking enough fluids, doing gentle exercises and taking stool softeners.
  • Lose weight – As obesity has been linked to POP, losing weight can relieve the pressure the extra weight puts on your organs.
  • Attend birthing classes – Birthing classes like Lamaze teach you how to tighten your core muscles and push during labor. This will help you know how to push and avoid straining your weaker muscles.

How to Manage Pelvic Organ Prolapse

When to See a Doctor in Atlanta for Pelvic Organ Prolapse

In most cases, women with pelvic organ prolapse have no symptoms. The condition will mostly be identified during a routine exam. However, in most women, the main sensation that proves to be bothersome is the pressure on the vagina. While it may not be easy to identify this pressure as POP, there are specific signs you can look for in addition to this.

Pelvic organ prolapse symptoms include:

  • Pelvic organ prolapse pain in your pelvic region
  • Pressure in your pelvic region even when your bladder is empty
  • A sense that there is something falling out of the vagina
  • A pulling or stretching sensation in your groin area
  • Lower backache
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Spotting or bleeding during your non-menstrual days
  • Incontinence and frequent and sudden urges to urinate
  • Constipation and other bowel movement problems
  • If you need to sit in a certain way to relieve yourself

You may also visit the pelvic organ prolapse ACOG page to view pelvic organ prolapse images and understand the condition better.

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What to Expect from Treatment for POP

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Diagnosis

As there aren’t always symptoms, diagnosis of pelvic organ prolapse will rely on catching the condition during a routine exam. When this happens, your doctor will go over your medical history including your past pregnancies to establish a precedent. They will then examine your abdomen and pelvic regions. This will be part of your overall physical exam. If there is evidence that shows you may have the condition, your doctor may suggest further tests including a cystoscopy, IVP (intravenous pyelogram), CT scan and urodynamic tests. These tests will determine the pelvic organ prolapse quantification of your organs to show how far down they have dropped relative to your vagina.

Pelvic Organ Prolapse Treatment

For most women, POP symptoms will be mild enough to either ignore or manage with mild medication. Lifestyle changes can also help you manage the symptoms. These changes include losing weight, exercising, eating high-fiber foods and doing Kegel exercises. If your symptoms are more severe, then you may benefit from pelvic organ prolapse surgery. Surgery will be performed to, among other things, repair your bladder, remove your uterus (if you do not wish to have more children), install a pelvic organ prolapse mesh, repair the walls of your vagina and in extreme cases, and close your vagina. Where pelvic organ prolapse treatment and stress urinary incontinence are linked, you may need a combination of treatments to treat both conditions.