What You Can Do to Prevent and Treat Vaginal Prolapse
Vaginal prolapse occurs when weak pelvic muscles are unable to support the reproductive organs. Fortunately, there are effective prevention strategies and treatment options available.
What is vaginal prolapse?
In vaginal prolapse, the vagina's support structure can become weak due to aging or other factors such as smoking, being overweight or delivering multiple babies through vaginal childbirth. Heavy lifting with improper form can also cause a prolapse. About one-third of women will eventually experience some degree of vaginal prolapse.
In mild prolapse cases, the top of the vagina hangs down into the vaginal canal. If the vaginal canal collapses to the point of protruding outside of the body, the prolapse is considered severe and may require surgical intervention.
Sometimes, other pelvic organs such as the uterus, bladder, small intestine or rectum sag simultaneously. The general term for this condition is pelvic organ prolapse. Symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse may include a noticeable bulge in the vagina that makes having sex or inserting tampons difficult, causes urinary or bowel issues and pelvic and lower back pain.
How is vaginal prolapse diagnosed?
Vaginal prolapse is typically diagnosed during a routine physical or pelvic exam with your gynecologist. Not everyone with prolapse has symptoms (especially in milder cases), so you may be surprised to learn that your pelvic organs aren't as well-supported as you thought.
Your doctor will talk to you about your medical history and risk factors. If the prolapse isn't affecting your daily life, you may be advised to hold off on treatment and follow up on a regular schedule to monitor any changes.
Prevention and non-invasive treatment options
Some of the causes of vaginal prolapse are modifiable, while others are not. If you've been lifting weights with bad form or smoking, discontinuing these activities can help prevent further damage. Excessive straining during bowel movements is another cause of pelvic organ prolapse. Avoid constipation by eating plenty of fiber and staying hydrated to promote regularity.
Achieving a healthy body weight and performing Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles can help you maintain the support structure of the vagina and surrounding organs, reducing the likelihood of future surgery. Your doctor may insert a removable device called a pessary to offer additional support in place of surgery. Pessaries are made of silicone and fitted based on your individual needs and anatomy.
Surgery to repair a vaginal prolapse
Sometimes, even with the best prevention efforts, vaginal prolapse can become so severe that surgery is recommended. If you suffer from intense pain, vaginal bleeding, incontinence or other complications of multi-organ prolapse, surgery can offer a permanent fix that can significantly improve your quality of life.
Your doctor can review your surgical options, which may include surgery through the vaginal opening or a procedure called laparoscopic colposuspension. In this, four tiny incisions are created through the midsection to lift and reattach sagging organs using sutures, fascial grafts and supportive mesh.
If these less-invasive procedures are not sufficient, you may require a more drastic vaginal prolapse operation, called obliterative surgery. By closing off or narrowing the vagina, obliterative surgery provides a high success and satisfaction rate when performed on the right candidates. Sexual intercourse is no longer possible after obliterative surgery, so it's crucial to weigh the decision carefully before committing to having it done.
A drop of prevention is worth a pound of cure
As with most health issues, preventing a vaginal prolapse is preferred over more invasive treatment down the road. However, you should never hesitate to seek guidance on this common problem. No matter how far your condition has progressed, there are evidence-based interventions that can provide significant improvements in your daily symptoms and long-term outlook.
Keeping up with preventative OB-GYN visits will help catch the signs of prolapse during its earlier stages. By implementing your doctor's recommended lifestyle changes and strengthening exercises, you may save yourself from the difficult decisions associated with severe prolapse problems.