Pelvic organ prolapse is fairly common among women, but it’s something most don’t focus on until they, or someone they’re close to, experience the frustration and discomfort of this condition. The good news is that you may be able to prevent or at least reduce the effects pelvic prolapse has on your life by understanding your risk factors and making a few changes now in your daily routine.
What is pelvic prolapse?
More often referred to as pelvic organ prolapse, it occurs when the muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissue structures of your pelvic floor weaken and lose their ability to hold your pelvic organs in place. This can cause your bladder or uterus to drop or protrude into your vagina or your rectum to fall and create a bulge in the back wall of your vagina.
What are the symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse?
Bladder prolapse (cystocele) is the most common type and often results in unexpected urinary leakage (incontinence), the feeling that you can’t empty your bladder completely, or the need to urinate frequently.
Depending on the organ or organs affected and the severity of the prolapse, symptoms may also include:
- The sensation of a bulge in your vagina
- Pain and pressure in your lower back and pelvic region
- Feeling as if you’re sitting on a ball
- Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse
- Constipation or the need to strain to have a bowel movement
The condition can develop slowly over years and you may not notice symptoms until the prolapse is moderate to severe. Often your gynecologist is the first to note prolapse or weakening of your pelvic floor during your annual checkup. When she asks you to bear down during a manual pelvic exam, for instance, she can gauge whether your uterus moves out of its expected position when stressed.
How can I prevent pelvic organ prolapse?
You can’t always prevent pelvic organ prolapse, but you can help decrease your risks of developing the weakened muscles that lead to this disorder by making some lifestyle changes.
Obesity, for instance, increases your risk by placing added stress and strain on your pelvic floor muscles, and tendons. A nutritious diet and healthy exercise routine that helps you maintain your ideal weight or promotes weight loss, when necessary, can help reduce your odds of developing pelvic organ prolapse. It’s also great for your overall health.
Other ways to reduce strain on your pelvic floor muscles include:
- Treating and preventing constipation by drinking plenty of fluids and including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other high-fiber foods in your diet
- Avoiding heavy lifting when possible, and otherwise lifting correctly with your legs instead of from your waist or back
- Preventing the strain coughing places on your pelvic floor muscles by getting treatment for a chronic cough or bronchitis and not smoking
- Performing Kegel exercises regularly
What are Kegel exercises?
Kegels are movements that focus on strengthening your pelvic floor muscles. Women who’ve had a vaginal birth are likely familiar with these exercises since your obstetrician may have recommended them as part of your recovery after delivery. Continuing with Kegels, or starting them before you have children, can help keep your pelvic floor muscles toned and strong.
You can perform Kegel exercises at any time by tightening and releasing the same muscles you use to hold back gas. Start with tightening and holding for 2-5 seconds and then relaxing for 2-5 seconds, working up to holding for 10 seconds before relaxing for 10 seconds. Repeat this movement 10 times for each session with the goal of completing three sessions per day.
Ask your gynecologist for further instructions if you question whether you’re performing the right movement since Kegel exercises are only effective if they’re performed correctly.
If you’d like more information about pelvic organ prolapse, or you have symptoms you think may be related to this condition, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your Annandale Ob-gyn specialist. Many effective options exist for treating this uncomfortable disorder.