So here goes, one of those things that rarely gets talked about but apparently happens to 50% of women – let’s talk about prolapse.
What is it?
Pelvic organ prolapse is when one or more of the organs in the pelvis slip down from their normal position and bulge into the vagina. It can be the uterus, bowel, bladder or top of the vagina.
Whilst a prolapse isn’t life-threatening, it can cause pain and discomfort and feel rather ‘odd’ amongst other things.
Pelvic organ prolapse symptoms include:
- a feeling of heaviness around your lower tummy and genitals (pelvis)
- a dragging discomfort inside your vagina
- feeling like there is something coming down into your vagina – it may feel like sitting on a small ball, or a bit like that feeling you get when a tampon isn’t in quite right!
- feeling or seeing a bulge or lump in or coming out of your vagina
- discomfort or numbness during sex
- problems peeing – such as feeling like your bladder isn’t emptying fully, needing to go to the toilet more often, or leaking a small amount of pee when you cough, sneeze or exercise – also known as stress incontinence
Sometimes pelvic organ prolapse has no symptoms and is found during an internal examination carried out for another reason, such as cervical screening.
Can it be prevented?
How many times have you been told to do you pelvic floor exercises? It’s not a joke I promise, just do them. A midwife said to me when I was pregnant with my first child that I should do my pelvic floor exercises every time I got to traffic lights. That way she said, I would always remember. I’d never be in a position where I’d got to the end of the day and was trying to cram them in and it would become automatic.
She was right – it did and 12 years on I’m still doing them at traffic lights.
Of course, just because you are religious with your exercises, it doesn’t prevent it happening to you, as there are there several factors at play.
A number of things can weaken your pelvic floor and increase your chance of developing pelvic organ prolapse, including:
- pregnancy and childbirth – especially if you had a long, difficult birth, or if you gave birth to a large baby or multiple babies
- getting older and going through the menopause
- being overweight or obese
- having long-term constipation or a long-term condition that causes you to cough and strain
- having a hysterectomy
- a job that requires a lot of heavy lifting
So, whilst it can be prevented, there are also a number of circumstances which can lead to a prolapse.
If it happens can I be fixed?
Symptoms can usually be improved with pelvic floor exercises and lifestyle changes, but sometimes medical treatment is needed.
Before you get to the stage where you may have to contemplate surgical options there are other things you can try. They may not reverse the problem, but may well relieve some of the symptoms.
Have you heard of Aquaflex? Neen Aquafelx helps you identify the right muscles to tighten and relax, offering different size vaginal cones and a set of weights to aid kegel exercises. The educator is a Pelvic Floor Exercise Indicator, which acts as a visual aid to make sure you’re contracting the correct muscles.
If you commit to using something like this regularly, then you could see results in 12 weeks. It’s easy to set up and use. Whilst a bit of a faff, it’s one of those things that if you can build it into your everyday routine, it becomes second nature.
There are also things like the Kegal 8 machines, which are really easy to use and can be very effective, especially if you aren’t sure if you are doing your exercises correctly. Kegal 8 produce products like Vaginal Cones as well which can help improve the pelvic floor, which can in turn improve the symptoms of a prolapse.
If your prolapse is quite advanced and you are unable to insert a probe into your vagina to assist with pelvic toning, you could try a system which uses the placement of electrodes to tone the pelvic floor. This works in a similar way to a TENS machine, so if you used one of those during labour it should be fairly straightforward.
There are other things thought to reduce the symptoms of prolapse, including:
- maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight if you’re overweight
- eating a high-fibre diet to avoid constipation
- avoiding lifting heavy objects
- avoiding high-impact exercise, such as trampolining or anything else which involves jumping and bouncing
If none of these things improve your condition, you may need to discuss the possibility of other options with a medical professional. There are still other options before you get to surgery.
Have you been affected by prolapse?