Under normal circumstances, the organs housed within your pelvis maintain their positions due to supportive tissues, which include your pelvic floor as well neighboring organs. When this support is lost, certain organs can shift out of position and push into your vaginal canal, creating issues such as incontinence.
Between 35% and 50% of women worldwide develop pelvic organ prolapse (POP) to some degree, which makes this women’s health concern exceedingly common.
To help you better understand this issue, The highly skilled professionals at The Center for Women’s Health, thought we’d take this opportunity to review five factors that can place you more at risk for POP. While there are some that you can do little about, others are within your power to change.
Let’s first start with a POP risk factor that’s well outside your power to influence — menopause. When you transition out of your reproductive stage, you lose a fair amount of estrogen production. While these hormones were largely responsible for regulating your ovulation, they also maintained the health of your vaginal support tissues.
With the absence of estrogen, tissues in your pelvis can weaken, including your pelvic floor, which is the band of tissue that lies underneath your organs, supporting them and helping them maintain their positions.
As you get older, your tissues naturally weaken, which is also true of your pelvic floor. Your risks for POP tend to rise with age — approximately 37% of women with pelvic floor disorders are 60-79 years old and about 50% are 80 or older.
If you’ve delivered a baby vaginally or you’ve delivered a baby that was on the larger side (more than 8.5 pounds), it may stretch your pelvic floor beyond its ability to bounce back. As a result, these tissues aren’t able to support your pelvic organs as well as they once did.
If you have a condition that causes a chronic cough or you’re carrying extra pounds, these added pressures on your pelvic floor can weaken them over time, hampering their ability to adequately support your pelvic organs.
Women who undergo a hysterectomy are at a higher risk of developing pelvic organ prolapse. The removal of the uterus can cause other organs, namely your bladder, to fall into your vaginal canal, as your bladder relied on your uterus for support.
Outside of a hysterectomy, any surgery in your pelvic region can also increase your chances for POP.
In many cases, POP can be quite mild and cause no symptoms. Even if it does start to cause symptoms, pelvic floor exercises such as Kegels can go a long way toward reestablishing support. In fact, we highly recommend that all women practice Kegels as they get older and pass through menopause.
If your prolapse causes symptoms, such as incontinence, and pelvic floor exercises aren’t effective, we can insert a pessary for support. Hormone replacement therapy can also help to strengthen pelvic organ support.
In severe cases of POP, we might recommend surgery. These types of surgery differ depending upon the type of POP. In most cases, our team repositions the organ and holds it in place with a mesh.
If you would like to learn more about your risk factors for POP, as well as your treatment options, we invite you to contact our office in Hampton and Newport News, Virginia to set up an appointment.