Pelvic organ prolapse affects millions of women every year, yet many women don’t recognize the symptoms or know they can be treated. Prolapse occurs when the strong muscles and ligaments of the pelvic floor weaken and can no longer support the pelvic organs (the uterus, vagina, and bladder). This weakness allows one or more of the organs to shift downward into the vagina. In the early stages of prolapse, you may not have any symptoms. But as the condition progresses without medical treatment, eventually the prolapsed organ can protrude through the vaginal opening, causing considerable pain and discomfort.
Pelvic organ prolapse can be treated with both nonsurgical and surgical options. But ideally, you want to take whatever actions you can to avoid prolapse in the first place. Here’s where to start.
Causes of pelvic organ prolapse
The key to preventing pelvic organ prolapse is to know what causes it in the first place — and to take action as early as possible, even before symptoms begin. Lots of factors can contribute to the gradual weakening of the pelvic floor muscles. The most common causes include:
- Vaginal childbirth
- Having had a hysterectomy
- Older age
- Repetitive heavy lifting
- Chronic constipation or other repetitive straining
- Chronic coughing due to asthma, smoking, or COPD
While pelvic organ prolapse can occur at any age, it's much more common once you reach menopause. Since prolapse rarely causes noticeable symptoms in its earliest stages, having regular pelvic exams (yes, even after your periods stop) is essential for preventing the condition from progressing to more advanced stages, when your uterus or another organ can begin protruding from your vagina.
Preventing pelvic prolapse
Once you know the causes of pelvic organ prolapse, you can identify your own personal risk factors and take steps to reduce those risks. For instance, if you’re overweight, losing those extra pounds and taking steps to maintain a healthy weight can reduce excess strain on your pelvic muscles, helping to prevent weakness. Avoiding heavy lifting is another easy step to take to keep your pelvic muscles in optimal shape.
Women who smoke should quit; not only will it help decrease coughing fits, but it also improves circulation, which means the pelvic floor muscles can get the oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood they need to stay healthy, strong, and supple. Getting treatment for asthma and other respiratory disorders is also important.
Of course, not all risk factors can be modified. Every woman, regardless of her risks, should consider performing Kegel exercises to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles contract and relax your pelvic floor muscles to keep them strong, and they can also increase circulation in the area.
If prolapse is already causing symptoms, Dr. Shakiba may prescribe a pessary, a rubber device that's inserted into your vagina to provide extra support for your pelvic organs. Pessaries come in different styles, and you'll need to be fitted for one to ensure it works properly. Fittings are performed right in the office during a regular pelvic exam.
While a pessary can provide temporary support for your pelvic organs, eventually you may need surgery to provide more permanent support. Dr. Shakiba uses different surgical approaches depending on the patient's individual needs. Dr. Shakiba performs pelvic surgery using the state-of-the-art da Vinci® robotic surgery device to ensure the best possible results for every woman.
Get relief for your symptoms
Pelvic prolapse can cause very painful symptoms in its more advanced stages. Getting treatment as early as possible can help you avoid these symptoms and prevent more serious damage to the pelvic floor muscles. At Women’s Pelvic Surgery of North Jersey, Dr. KhaShayar Shakiba offers state-of-the-art care for pelvic organ prolapse, as well as prevention strategies tailored to every patient’s unique needs. To learn more about pelvic prolapse including both prevention and treatment strategies, book an appointment online today.