After childbirth, you can feel like you’re facing an uphill battle to get your pre-baby body back. Working out is a great way to give your body a boost in the right direction, but tightening your tummy isn’t the only aspect you should focus on. Your pelvic floor muscles stretch and weaken during childbirth, so doing Kegels can improve those muscles. But, your pelvic floor muscles can weaken even without childbirth. This is known as vaginal prolapse. Why does this happen, and how can it impact your health?
What Causes Vaginal Prolapse?
Your pelvic floor muscles support your pelvic organs, but these muscles can stretch and weaken from different conditions — with the main cause being childbirth. Other common causes include:
- Age/Loss of estrogen
- Constant coughing from chronic lung disease
- Pressure from excess weight
- Chronic constipation
- Lifting heavy objects
While these situations can most commonly lead to vaginal prolapse, there are certain scenarios that can increase your risk as well. These include:
- Having vaginal deliveries — especially a complicated one
- Having gone through menopause
- Being overweight
- Coughing a lot from lung disease
- Straining during bowel movements due to chronic constipation
- Having a family member with prolapse
- Lifting heavy objects often
- Having fibroids
Types of Prolapse
Vaginal prolapse typically involves the weakening and drooping of the uterus, urethra, bladder, or rectum into the vagina. In extreme cases, these organs can even protrude out of the vagina. But, there are four different types of prolapse:
- Anterior vaginal prolapse happens when the bladder falls down into the vagina
- Posterior vaginal prolapse occurs when the wall separating the rectum from the vagina weakens and allows the rectum to bulge into the vagina
- Uterine prolapse is when the uterus lowers down in the vagina
- Apical prolapse happens when the cervix or upper part of the vagina falls down into the vagina
Symptoms of Vaginal Prolapse
Most women will not show any symptoms of having vaginal prolapse. And, if symptoms do occur, they can depend on the organ that’s being affected. The most common symptoms include:
- A feeling of fullness in the vagina
- A lump at the opening of the vagina
- A sensation of heaviness or pressure in the pelvis
- A feeling as if you’re sitting on a ball
- Achy pain in your lower back that’s relieved when you lie down
- A need to urinate more often than usual
- Trouble emptying your bladder or completing a bowel movement
- Frequent bladder infections
- Abnormal bleeding from the vagina
- Leaking of urine when you cough, sneeze, laugh, have sex, or exercise
- Pain during sex
Diagnosing Vaginal Prolapse
Vaginal prolapse can be diagnosed during your regular pelvic exam. If your physician suspects you may have vaginal prolapse, they may ask you to bear down like you’re trying to push out a bowel movement. They will also ask you to tighten and release muscles you would use to start and stop the flow of urine. This will test the strength of your muscles. If you’re having trouble urinating, your physician may also check your bladder function with urodynamic testing.
If further testing is needed, your physician may suggest imaging tests that will look for problems with your pelvic organs. These tests can include:
- Pelvic ultrasound
- Pelvic floor MRI
- CT scan of your abdomen and pelvis
Treating Vaginal Prolapse
If you suspect your pelvic floor muscles have been stretched and weakened during childbirth or from coughing while having lung disease, your first step is to do pelvic floor exercises — such as Kegels. Kegels can help strengthen the muscles that support your vagina, bladder, and other pelvic organs.
You can also learn how to identify your pelvic floor muscles by stopping and starting your urination during midstream. Avoid making this a continued practice, but it can be helpful for identifying the right muscles.
In some cases, weight loss can help take some of the pressure off your bladder or other pelvic organs. You should talk to your doctor about how much weight you would need to lose and the proper ways to lose it.
Depending on the severity of your vaginal prolapse, your doctor may suggest a pessary. This device is made from plastic or rubber and goes into your vagina to hold the bulging tissues in place. This treatment option is used to avoid surgery.
If other options don’t seem to help, you may want to consider surgery. This treatment option can put your pelvic organs back in place and hold them there. During surgery, your doctor will use a piece of your own tissue, tissue from a donor, or a man-made material to support the weakened pelvic muscles. Surgery is done through the vagina or through a small incision in your abdomen.
If You Have Vaginal Prolapse, OB-GYN Women’s Center Can Help
At OB-GYN Women’s Center, we aim to make all of our patients feel comfortable. And, getting answers to all your questions is the first step in getting the treatment you need.
Contact us to schedule an appointment.