Pelvic organ prolapse is a disorder that affects nearly 3% of women in the United States. It’s more common in older women – almost 50% of women between 50-79 have pelvic organ prolapse.

Your pelvic floor is a hammock-like arrangement of muscles, tissues, and ligaments that hold the bowel, bladder, uterus, cervix, vagina, urethra, and rectum in place in your pelvis. When the pelvic floor is weak or damaged, pelvic organ prolapse can occur.

A pelvic organ prolapse means one or more of those organs has moved out of place (usually downwards) and possibly bulged into or out of the vagina. It’s caused by weakened or damaged muscles or tissues that can no longer support the pelvic organs. The bladder is the most commonly affected.

Types of pelvic organ prolapse include:

  • Bladder prolapse (cystocele)
  • Rectal prolapse (rectocele)
  • Small bowel prolapse (enterocele)
  • Uterine prolapse
  • Rectal prolapse (the rectum can fall through the anus)
  • Vaginal prolapse (with severe uterine prolapse, the vagina may also fall out)

8 Symptoms of Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Symptoms depend on which organ is affected and may worsen when active or standing for long periods. Some of these symptoms, like urinary tract infections or vaginal spotting, can have several other causes. If you experience any of these symptoms alone or together, it’s important you talk to your doctor for a diagnosis.

Every woman with pelvic organ prolapse doesn’t have the same symptoms. Some women don’t have any symptoms, but when symptoms are noticeable, they may include:

  1. Bulging or heavy feeling in the vagina that worsens throughout the day and during bowel movements.
  2. Discomfort, pressure, or feeling of fullness in the pelvis, lower abdomen, groin, or lower back.
  3. Constipation or loss of bowel control.
  4. Leaking urine or a constant urge to urinate.
  5. Inability to completely empty the bladder.
  6. Frequent urinary tract infections.
  7. Vaginal spotting or bleeding.
  8. Painful intercourse.

Diagnosing Pelvic Organ Prolapse

If you have symptoms that may indicate a prolapse, your doctor will do a physical exam to verify your suspicions or look for other causes. Other exams or tests may provide more information, for example:

  • Cystoscopy – If you have difficulty emptying your bladder or have incontinence, you may have a cystoscopy to examine inside your bladder and urethra.
  • MRI – An MRI allows your doctor to view your pelvic organs.

Risk Factors

Factors that raise your risk for developing pelvic organ prolapse include:

  • Age (over 50)
  • Childbirth, especially vaginally
  • Chronic constipation
  • Connective tissue disorders
  • Genetics
  • Hysterectomy
  • Menopause
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

Pelvic organ prolapse can be uncomfortable and can affect your quality of life.

If you think you may have a prolapse, don’t delay – schedule an appointment today!