You may be thinking that prolapse is an old lady’s problem that doesn’t concern you. While it is true it is more common in older women after childbirth, there are several things you can do now to prevent it.
As we age the vaginal walls become weaker, especially after menopause. But a prolapse occurs when the ‘laxing’ of the vaginal walls is abnormal. Maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, avoiding constipation and doing regular pelvic floor exercises can help prevent a prolapse from occurring.
What is prolapse?
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists explain that prolapse occurs when the muscles, ligaments and tissues that hold the pelvic organs in place weaken, allowing the pelvic organs to descend in the pelvis, like a hernia.
There are several types of prolapses. When the front wall of the vagina becomes weak, the bladder may bulge through and is called a ‘cystocoele’. If the back wall of the vagina becomes weak the bowel may bulge through and is called an ‘enterocoele’. The urethra or uterus may also prolapse and the vaginal itself can invert. If you are having trouble imagining what a prolapse looks like here are some pictures, but be warned they are VERY GRAPHIC. Thankfully most prolapses are less severe and can be effectively managed or treated.
Signs and Symptoms of prolapse
The Royal Women’s Hospital in Victoria has several factsheets available relating to prolapse and the signs and symptoms and treatments available.
Some of these symptoms may be:
- A heavy or dragging feeling in the vagina. It may feel worse after sneezing, coughing, standing for long periods or physical activity.
- Seeing or feeling a lump inside or outside your vagina.
- Achy pain in your pelvic area or back.
- Difficulty going to the toilet, increased frequently or wetting yourself. Recurrent UTI’s.
- Discomfort, pain or less sensation during sex.
Treatment of prolapse
The treatment required will depend on the type of prolapse and severity, your age and health and whether you have finished having children. Some treatments will relieve the symptoms, while others aim to fix the problem. Lifestyle changes such as diet, quitting smoking, losing weight and lifting less may only be needed. A physiotherapist may teach you how to strengthen your pelvic floor. A pessary may be placed in your vagina to support the prolapse and oestrogen may also be prescribed. Or surgery may be required to repair the pelvic floor to prevent the prolapse from reoccurring.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms see your GP sooner rather than later. They can do an examination to help diagnose the prolapse and may refer you to a physiotherapist or a specialist gynaecologist for further treatment. But in the meantime don’t forget to do those pelvic floor exercises!