Pelvic organ prolapse, referred to as POP, affects millions of women every year, but many have never heard of it or know exactly what it is. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists defines POP as "a disorder in which one or more pelvic organs drops from their normal position in the body. These organs include the uterus, intestines, vagina, bladder, and rectum." The Pelvic Organ Prolapse Support Organization estimates that up to 50 percent of all women may have some degree of POP, and over 300,000 women receive POP surgery in the United States each year. Since it's commonly associated with childbirth, this is information women of all ages need to be aware of.
What Are the Symptoms?
While there are varying degrees of POP, general symptoms include a feeling of pressure or fullness in the pelvic area, a lower backache, painful intercourse, a feeling that something is falling out of the vagina, urinary problems such as leaking of urine or a chronic urge to urinate, constipation, and spotting or bleeding from the vagina. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms regularly, check in with your doctor right away.
How Do I Prevent It?
A study by Yale University found that women who returned to a healthy BMI within one year of having a baby had a lower incidence of POP. This means that even if you have significant gestational weight gain, if you can implement healthy nutritional and exercise habits postdelivery, you have a much better chance at minimizing your POP.
Urologist Dr. Dana Rice, creator of UTI Tracker App, told POPSUGAR that she also highly recommends pelvic floor exercises as part of a regular routine to minimize symptoms: "In postpartum studies, urinary incontinence in particular is reported at 41 percent prevalence with direct increase with older moms, and one long-term study shows pelvic floor muscle exercises are safe and effective for urinary incontinence."
If you're unable to get out of the house with a new baby or don't have access to regular physical therapy appointments, exercises done at home can be just as effective.
Jacqueline M. Stiles, a physical therapist with the Evergreen Clinic who focuses on pelvic health, told POPSUGAR that woman also need to make sure they're adopting healthy bathroom habits. "It's important to make sure you sit down on the toilet seat to allow the pelvic muscles to fully relax," she said. "Do not push down because it can encourage the organs to prolapse. Try putting your feet on a stool when seated on the toilet because it straightens out the alignment of your rectum to create a better 'poop chute,' leading to easier bowel movements."
How Do I Treat It?
Dr. Rice cautions that not all cases should lead to surgery. "There are varying stages of prolapse and not all stages are operative," she explained. "If a patient is not having symptoms, operating is not the answer. No surgery is without risk." If you have a minor case of POP, pelvic floor exercises, medication, or a Pessaries (silicone devices placed vaginally to hold the pelvic organs in place) may be options for you. Continuing healthy exercise and bathroom and nutritional habits should also be a part of your daily regimen.
For more severe cases, once assessed by your medical professional, surgery may be the right solution for your long-term pain and elimination of symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, surgeries range from securing the connective tissue between your vagina and rectum, bladder, and vagina and removing excess tissue up to hysterectomy, depending on age and likelihood of more children.