It’s more common than you’d think
Pelvic organ prolapse is an uncomfortable reality for many Australian women. In fact, statistics indicate that 1 in 2 women who have had a baby will experience prolapse at some point.
Prolapse is when your pelvic organs (uterus, bladder or bowel) bulge down into your vagina. It happens because the support structures that hold your pelvic organs in place have become stretched or torn.
So as you might expect, having a baby vaginally is a common cause of pelvic organ prolapse. As is menopause, when reduced oestrogen levels cause tissues to become thinner and lose their elasticity.
But there are many other factors that can contribute to prolapse.
Causes of pelvic organ prolapse
The hormones released during pregnancy can cause pelvic ligaments to soften, which weakens them. Combine this with an average 10kg weight gain during pregnancy, as well as the pressure of holding your growing baby in place, and you have a very stressful load!
Long labour and / or big baby
There’s a lot of stretch and strain involved with delivering a baby vaginally. If you have a large baby (over 4kg), the stress on your pelvic muscles can be extreme. An active pushing phase of labour more than 2 hours long can also wreak havoc on your pelvic tissues and nerves.
Heavy weight lifting
Whether you have a job involving manual labour, if you regularly lift heavy weights at the gym, or if you carry heavy things regularly during your day-to-day activities, the increase in intra-abdominal pressure as you lift can put extra strain on your pelvic ligaments. Over time, that can cause some wear and tear.
Pushing and straining on the toilet causes enormous damage to your muscles, nerves, and tissues in your pelvis. It’s a huge contributor not only to haemorrhoids, but pelvic organ prolapse too.
Once you transition into menopause, your oestrogen levels begin to drop. Oestrogen is an important hormone for promoting healthy tissues, so as your body loses access to it, your ligaments and muscles will start to become thin and lose their elasticity.
How do I know if I have a prolapse?
You might experience any of the following symptoms:
- Feeling a bulge in your vagina, or protrusion from the vagina
- A feeling of fullness or heaviness in the vagina
- Trouble going to the toilet
- Discomfort in your abdomen or lower back
- Regular urinary tract infections
- Pain or discomfort during sex
What can I do to avoid prolapse?
If you’ve been diagnosed with prolapse, or think you may be at risk of developing it, there are things you can do about it.
Avoid constipation by maintaining good fluid and fibre intake. Try to drink 2 litres of water and consume 30g of fibre every single day. Fibre is abundant in loads of healthy foods such as wholegrains, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
If you are feeling constipated, don’t strain! Instead, increase your fruit and water intake, or drink a soluble fibre supplement.
This means gently contracting your pelvic floor before you bend down to life something. Also, make sure you breathe throughout your lifting exercise – many people hold their breath when lifting, which puts extra pressure on your pelvic muscles.
Maintain a healthy weight
Carrying extra weight adds to the burden of your pelvic muscles. Gravity is something that none of us can escape – and the more weight it pulls downward, the more stress your ligaments endure every day.
There’s a million reasons why smoking is bad for you… and here’s another one. Smoking not only does significant damage to your cells and tissue health, but it also is the cause of smoker’s cough. Constant coughing has an effect on your pelvic ligaments kind of like snapping an elastic band – sooner or later, the band loosens.
Pelvic muscle exercises strengthen and retrain the muscles of the pelvic floor. Doing them daily can help improve (or prevent) prolapse and its wicked little sister – urinary incontinence. Doing them is easy – just squeeze your muscles as though you’re stopping urine mid-stream. Try for 4-8 sets of 10 squeezes over the course of each day. You’ll soon notice the difference!
See your GP
If you notice something feeling different in your vagina, or experience symptoms associated with pelvic organ prolapse, it’s important to talk to your doctor about it. Although it can be an unpleasant thing to have to talk about, early intervention can help you avoid ending up needing surgery to correct the problem.
At Northside Gynaecology, our all-female gynaecologist team
are dedicated to providing compassionate and quality care for your
gynaecological health. To book an appointment at one of our convenient North
Brisbane locations, click here.