Home > Wellness > Health Library > Pelvic Organ Prolapse
Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when a pelvic organ—such as your bladder—drops (prolapses) from its normal place in your lower belly and pushes against the walls of your vagina. This can happen when the muscles that hold your pelvic organs in place get weak or stretched from childbirth or surgery.
Many women will have some kind of pelvic organ prolapse. It can be uncomfortable or painful. But it isn't usually a big health problem. It doesn't always get worse. And in some women, it can get better with time.
More than one pelvic organ can prolapse at the same time. Organs that can be involved when you have pelvic prolapse include the:
Pelvic organ prolapse is most often linked to strain during childbirth. Normally your pelvic organs are kept in place by the muscles and tissues in your lower belly. During childbirth these muscles can get weak or stretched. If they don't recover, they can't support your pelvic organs.
Pelvic organ prolapse can be made worse by anything that puts pressure on your belly, such as:
Older women are more likely to have pelvic organ prolapse. It also tends to run in families.
Symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse include:
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and about any pregnancies or health problems. Your doctor will also do a physical exam, which will include a pelvic exam.
Decisions about your treatment will be based on which pelvic organs have prolapsed and how bad your symptoms are.
If your symptoms are mild, you may be able to do things at home to help yourself feel better. You can relieve many of your symptoms by adopting new, healthy habits. Try special exercises (called Kegels) that make your pelvic muscles stronger. Reach and stay at a healthy weight. Avoid lifting heavy things that put stress on your pelvic muscles.
If you still have symptoms, your doctor may have you fitted with a device called a pessary to help with the pain and pressure of pelvic organ prolapse. It is a removable device that you put in your vagina. It helps hold the pelvic organs in place. But if you have a severe prolapse, you may have trouble keeping a pessary in place.
Surgery is another treatment option for serious symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse. But you may want to delay having surgery if you plan to have children. The strain of childbirth could cause your prolapse to come back.
You may want to consider surgery if:
Types of surgery for pelvic organ prolapse include:
Pelvic organ prolapse can come back after surgery. Doing Kegel exercises to make your pelvic muscles stronger will help you recover faster from surgery. The two together can help you more than surgery alone.
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Pelvic organ prolapse is usually caused by damage to the tissues (muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue) that support the pelvic organs. Damage or stretching of these tissues allows the organs to move out of their normal positions. This causes them to press against (and sometimes move) the inside walls of the vagina.
Having a baby makes it more likely that you will have pelvic organ prolapse later. Vaginal childbirth has been strongly linked to weakened and stretched support structures in the pelvic area. This loss of support is the biggest cause of pelvic organ prolapse. Having a cesarean section, on the other hand, seems to be less strongly linked to pelvic organ prolapse.
Another cause of reduced support in the pelvis is lower levels of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen levels are lower during and after menopause. The lower levels of estrogen in the body mean less collagen, a protein that helps the pelvic connective tissues stretch and return to their normal positions.
Other conditions that may cause pelvic organ prolapse include:
Although many women who have pelvic organ prolapse do not have symptoms, the most common and bothersome symptom is pressing of the uterus or other organs against the vaginal wall. The pressure on your vagina may cause minor discomfort or problems in how your pelvic organs work. Symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse include:
Symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse are made worse by standing, jumping, and lifting and usually are relieved by lying down.
The pelvic organs are kept in place by the muscles and connective tissues of the pelvis (pelvic diaphragm). The vagina of an adult woman is normally a round-topped, muscular tube that also supports the other pelvic organs. The pelvic muscles and tissues can be stretched or damaged, most commonly by childbirth. When they don't recover, they lose their ability to support the organs.
The location and severity of pelvic organ prolapse is related to where in the pelvis the injury or muscular damage has occurred. You may have several areas of injury that contribute to prolapse. Prolapse may occur after surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy) if the procedure removes or damages support of the bladder, urethra, or bowel wall. If other conditions, such as childbirth, damage muscles or nerves in the pelvis, the pelvic diaphragm may lose its dome shape. It may become more like a funnel and then bulge down into or out of the vagina.
Pelvic organ prolapse may increase pressure on the vagina and interfere with sexual activity, sometimes leading to sexual dysfunction. For more information, see the topic Sexual Problems in Women.
Lower estrogen levels during and after menopause make pelvic organ prolapse more likely. Estrogen helps your body to make collagen, a protein that enables the supportive tissues of the pelvis to stretch and return to their normal positions. When estrogen levels go down, so do collagen levels. Less collagen makes it more likely that those supportive tissues will tear.
Pelvic organ prolapse may be a progressive condition, gradually getting worse and causing more severe symptoms. But in many cases it does not progress and may improve over time.
Pelvic organ prolapse is often related to stretching and pressure during labor and childbirth. This can occur when a woman delivers a large baby [over 9 lb (4 kg)] or when she has a long, difficult labor and delivery. Pelvic organ prolapse most often appears during menopause, as pelvic tissues damaged during childbearing age and lose strength.
Other things that may increase the risk for pelvic organ prolapse include:
Call your doctor to schedule an appointment if:
Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. If you have been diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse and you don't have symptoms, or if you have mild symptoms that aren't interfering with your daily activities, you may wish to try watchful waiting. Many women who have pelvic organ prolapse don't have symptoms, so they don't need treatment.
If you have symptoms, such as a feeling of pressure in your vagina, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
A prolapse of a pelvic organ is sometimes difficult to diagnose. Pelvic organ prolapse that does not cause symptoms is often discovered during a routine exam. You may be aware that there is a problem but be unsure of the exact location or cause. If prolapse is suspected, your doctor will take your medical history, including your symptoms and your history of pregnancies and other health problems, and do a physical exam, including a pelvic exam.
Tests may be done to find out the nature of a prolapse, particularly if it is causing problems with bladder or bowel function. These tests include:
Doctors use a classification system to determine the level of an organ's prolapse. Identifying the exact level of prolapse helps guide decisions about which treatments are most likely to offer long-term success. One standard classification uses "stages" of prolapse and is based on how close the lowest part of the organ is to the opening of your vagina (the hymen).
Many women who have pelvic organ prolapse do not have symptoms and do not require treatment. If your symptoms are bothersome, you may want to consider treatment. Treatment decisions should take into account which organs are affected, how bad symptoms are, and whether other medical conditions are present. Other important factors are your age and sexual activity.
Many women are able to reduce pain and pressure from a pelvic organ prolapse with nonsurgical treatment, which may include making lifestyle changes, doing exercises, and/or using a removable device called a pessary that is placed into the vagina to support areas of prolapse.
If your pelvic organ prolapse is causing pain or problems with bowel and bladder functions or is interfering with your sexual activity, you may want to consider surgery. Surgical procedures used to correct different types of pelvic organ prolapse include repair of the supporting tissue of the prolapsed organ or vagina wall. Another option is the removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) when it is the prolapsed organ or if it is causing the prolapse of other organs (such as the vagina).
Sometimes surgery cannot repair all the prolapsed organs. And sometimes pelvic organ prolapse comes back after surgery.
Pelvic organ prolapse can be a long-lasting condition. But it does not have to be a cause of symptoms that disrupt your life. Many women with pelvic organ prolapse are able to relieve their symptoms without treatment by adjusting their activities and lifestyle habits. These changes might include:
If your symptoms are not relieved by these lifestyle changes, you may want to consider treatment for pelvic organ prolapse. Treatment will be different depending on which organs are involved, how bad your symptoms are, and what other medical conditions are present. Treatment may include using a pessary, a removable device that is placed into the vagina to support areas of prolapse.
Pelvic organ prolapse can be a long-lasting condition. But it often responds to adjustments in activities and lifestyle habits. If you have tried self-care, such as eating high-fiber foods, staying at a healthy weight, and doing pelvic floor (Kegel) exercises, but your symptoms are increasingly bothersome, you may want to consider nonsurgical treatment. Treatment will be different depending on which organs are involved, how bad your symptoms are, and what other medical conditions are present. Treatment may include using a pessary, a removable device that is placed into the vagina to support areas of pelvic organ prolapse.
If you have pain and discomfort from pelvic organ prolapse that does not respond to nonsurgical treatment and lifestyle changes, you may want to consider surgery. The choice of surgery depends upon which organs are involved, how bad your symptoms are, and what other medical conditions are present. Also, your surgeon may have experience with and preference for a certain procedure. Types of surgery for pelvic organ prolapse include:
Often the doctor does more than one of these surgeries at the same time. These surgeries are designed to treat specific symptoms. So other symptoms may remain after surgery.
For help deciding about surgery, see:
If you are considering having children, you may want to delay pelvic organ surgery. If you have surgery and then deliver a child vaginally, the strain on your pelvic organs may cause them to prolapse again.
Sometimes surgery cannot repair all the prolapsed organs. And sometimes surgery to repair pelvic organ prolapse will lead to prolapse in another area.
Pelvic organ prolapse is most often a result of tissue damage caused by labor and childbirth. Although you may not be able to prevent the damage to your pelvic organs caused by childbearing, you may be able to control the progression of the prolapse. Lifestyle changes that may slow the prolapse process include:
Home treatment can relieve the discomfort of pelvic organ prolapse. It can also help to keep prolapse from getting worse.
Although taking or applying the hormone estrogen will not cure an existing pelvic organ prolapse, it is sometimes prescribed for women during menopause to preserve or strengthen the tissues of the pelvis, which may help prevent prolapse. Estrogen prevents drying and thinning of the vaginal tissues (vaginal atrophy) and improves your ability to effectively use a support device for your vagina (pessary).
Studies have shown that taking estrogen therapy (ET) or hormone therapy (HT) can increase risks of serious diseases. Estrogen as a low-dose vaginal cream is not thought to pose the same risks to women's health. Talk to your doctor about taking or applying estrogen.
If you have pain and discomfort from pelvic organ prolapse that does not respond to nonsurgical treatment and lifestyle changes, you may want to consider surgery. The choice of surgery depends upon which organs are involved, how bad your symptoms are, and what other medical conditions are present. Also, your surgeon may have experience with and preference for a certain procedure. The goals of surgery are to relieve your symptoms and restore the normal functioning of your pelvic organs.
There are several types of surgery to correct stress urinary incontinence. These can be done at the same time as surgery to repair prolapse. These surgeries lift the urethra and/or bladder into their normal position.
Surgical procedures used to correct different types of pelvic organ prolapse include:
Surgeries are designed to treat specific symptoms, so you may still have other symptoms after surgery. An examination while you have a pessary in your vagina may help the doctor see if urinary incontinence would be a problem after surgery. If the exam shows that urinary incontinence will be a problem, another surgery can be done at the same time to fix the problem.
Surgery in one part of your pelvis can make a prolapse in another part worse, possibly requiring separate treatment in the future.
Pelvic organ prolapse is strongly linked to labor and vaginal delivery. So you may want to delay surgery if you plan to have children.
You may be able to relieve symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse by using a pessary. A pessary is a removable device that fits into your vagina and supports the pelvic organs, helping to keep them in place.
Many women can successfully control symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse for years using a vaginal pessary. But if you have a severe prolapse, you may have difficulty keeping a pessary in place.
Other Works Consulted
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Gleason JL, et al. (2012). Pelvic organ prolapse. In JS Berek, ed., Berek and Novak's Gynecology, 15th ed., pp. 906–939. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
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Current as of:
February 11, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Sarah Marshall MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineFemi Olatunbosun MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as of: February 11, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Femi Olatunbosun MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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