It is a condition that millions of women experience, yet few talk about. Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) occurs when one or more pelvic organs bulge or herniate into or out of the vagina. Many women discover they have POP upon seeing or feeling tissue coming out of the opening of the vagina, while others experience a bulging feeling. Others might have urinary or bowel symptoms. Occasionally, there are no symptoms at all and a patient might be told she has POP by her primary care or general gynecologist.
Over 200,000 procedures are performed to correct POP annually in the USA. There are newer techniques that your doctors can speak with you about, but the good news is there are also ways to slow its progression.
Tanaz Ferzandi, MD, MBA, MA, Director of Urogynecology and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery at Tufts Medical Center, outlines the "do's" and "don'ts" to help reduce your risk for POP.
There is currently no single way to prevent pelvic organ prolapse. Many women carry a genetic risk that significantly increases the likelihood that POP will occur (which is why it is important to know your family history). However, there are behavioral and lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risk. Many recommendations include maneuvers to decrease the amount of pressure inside the abdomen and pelvic floor. Here are some DOs, DON’Ts, and other risk factors to keep in mind.
- Practice pelvic muscle exercises (Kegels). These exercises strengthen your pelvic floor and can also improve stress incontinence. These exercises should be done regularly and with the correct technique. Read more about Tufts MC’s Pelvic Floor Training.
- Maintain a normal weight. Overweight women are at an increased risk for pelvic organ prolapse.
- Eat a high fiber diet and drink adequate fluids. Constipation increases your risk of POP.
- If you have a chronic cough, speak with your physician to help manage this as the constant pressure in the pelvic can play a role in POP
- See your physician if you begin to show symptoms listed above or you have persistent constipation.
- DON’T strain during bowel movements. Chronic straining increases your risk of POP.
- DON’T perform repetitive strenuous tasks (or try to avoid performing them). Extremely strenuous tasks, such as heavy lifting, put stress on the pelvic area.
- DON’T use your lower back of abdomen for heavy lifting. This also puts stress on the pelvic area. Learn to lift correctly with your legs.
- DON’T smoke. Smoking doubles your risk for pelvic floor disorders, including pelvic organ prolapse.
- Childbirth: One in three women who give birth experience POP. Delivery can damage or strain pelvic muscles, especially if you had forceps assisted vaginal delivery.
- Menopause: Loss of estrogen due to menopause can weaken the pelvic muscle floor.
- Related health conditions: Health problems that include straining, constipation, obesity, or chronic cough can increase the risk of POP.
- Genetics: your family history can help us understand your risk of pelvic organ prolapse.
If you experience pelvic organ prolapse, Tufts Medical Center’s Division of Urogynecology and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery in downtown Boston specializes in treatment plans for this condition. Our all-female staff, comprised of fellowship-trained and board-certified urogynecologists, wants you to know that there are safe and effective treatment options. Our physicians see patients in Boston, Norfolk, Braintree and Wellesley.