When it comes to the health of your “below the belt” area, it can be embarrassing to talk about it. If you feel this way, then know you are not alone. The Women’s Health Initiative study found that about 44-percent of women have some degree of prolapse. So, don’t be afraid to mention any discomfort or painful symptoms to your healthcare provider. They are there to help, but cannot help you if they don’t know you are suffering. In the meantime, let’s teach you a bit about the condition so you can be prepared for your doctor’s visit.
All about prolapse
A prolapse occurs when organs in your pelvic region such as the uterus, bladder, or rectum bulge into or out of the vagina. You may not even know you have a prolapse if it is in the milder stages. However, if it is more severe, then you may feel a small ball when you sit down or notice a slight bulging coming through your vaginal opening. Other symptoms of prolapse include:
- Pain or pressure in your lower back and/pelvis
- Urinary leakage or urinary retention
- Urge that you need to constantly urinate
- Painful sex
You may be at higher risk of developing prolapse if you have had one or more pregnancies or vaginal births, increasing age, obesity, chronic constipation, prior pelvic surgery, or giving birth to a large baby. There are five major types of prolapse that include:
- Cystocele: when the bladder bulges out of the vagina.
- Enterocele: when the small intestine presses up against or herniates in the vagina.
- Rectocele: when the rectum presses against or prolapses in the vagina.
- Uterine prolapse: when the uterus prolapses.
- Vaginal vault prolapse: occurs when the upper portion of the vagina drops into the vaginal opening after the uterus is removed, and is therefore more common in those who have had a hysterectomy.
Although the different types of prolapses involve different pelvic organs, they all stem from weakening of the vaginal walls in one way or another.
How does pregnancy affect prolapse?
Pregnancy can affect prolapse in many ways. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just pushing and straining during delivery that can increase your risk of prolapse. Even before birth, the act of carrying a pregnancy can put strain on the pelvic floor muscles and increase your risk of prolapse later on. Family history of weak pelvic floor muscles and genetics also play a greater role in prolapse, than factors like multiple pregnancies.
How To Fix a Prolapse Without Surgery
Although there are surgeries to help treat prolapse, there are also several non-surgical options you can try if your prolapse is in the milder stages.
- Kegels: Kegels are exercises that help to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that involve squeezing and releasing the muscles you use to hold in gas. Proper technique is to hold the muscles in for five to ten seconds, and then relax for five to ten seconds. Repeat these 15 to 20 times, three times a day to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
- Pessary devices: Go to your physician for a pessary device. A pessary is a device that is inserted into the vagina to help support the pelvic floor muscles. It is usually the first line of treatment for a prolapse before surgery. You will have to get a fitting at your physician’s office, but the device can typically be removed, washed, and reinserted at home on your own. Your fitting will make sure it is comfortable while you are sitting, standing, and moving around. The pessary can be worn during sex, but if you have any discharge or bleeding from the vaginal area or have trouble passing stool or urine, then it is important to see your doctor right away.
- Medication: In women experiencing menopause, many of which experience prolapse, estrogen therapy may help prevent some weakening of the pelvic floor muscle as well as vaginal dryness.
Can I Avoid Prolapse?
It may not be possible to completely avoid prolapse since you may not have symptoms in the early stages. Although you can’t control risk factors like genetics or family history of weak pelvic floor muscles, you can control lifestyle factors like weight and diet. These small changes can help you lower your risk of developing prolapse or at least manage it.
How Can I Manage My Prolapse?
There are certain lifestyle changes you can make to help manage your prolapse or prevent it.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can place extra pressure on your pelvic floor muscles and can cause them to weaken over time. Eating healthier and exercising regularly are some ways you can try to manage your weight and lower your risk of prolapse.
- Treat or prevent constipation: BY increasing your fiber intake by eating lots of fruits and vegetables, you can help treat or prevent constipation. When increasing your fiber intake though, be sure to drink plenty of water too to help move the bulkier stool out of your body.
- Stop smoking: If you quit smoking or don’t start, then you can help prevent chronic coughing that can weaken your pelvic floor muscles.
- Practice caution with heavy lifting: Tighten the lower abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles when lifting heavy objects to help protect the pelvic floor.
Take Home Message
If you’re having any symptoms of prolapse, you are not alone. Be sure to visit your doctor to get tested for any signs of prolapse so you can start getting treated for your condition. Until then, practice some of the healthy lifestyle behaviors mentioned to help you prevent or treat your prolapse at home.