A Prolapse is where the thin walls between the rectum and the vagina weakens, and either the uterus or vagina ‘fall out’ externally to the body.
There are a few different types of prolapse, let’s look at each of them:
Vaginal Prolapse affects many women particularly those in menopause. But it happens in younger women too, and as horrific as it sounds, it is certainly something women should be aware of and know that it is treatable.
What are the Symptoms of Vaginal Prolapse?
The symptoms are different for every woman depending on the organs involved and the severity of the prolapse but the more common symptoms are:
- An aching feeling of discomfort in the pelvis or lower back
- A heavy ‘dragging’ sensation, often described as “like everything is dropping” this is particularly noticeable when coughing, sneezing, exerting yourself physically or otherwise putting pressure on the pelvic floor.
- A lump or bulge in the vagina or vagina entrance
- Bowel and bladder issues incorrect positioning of the bladder or bowel during prolapse can result in constipation, incontinence, frequent urination or difficulty completely emptying the bowels or bladder.
- Sexual issues prolapsed pelvic organs can ‘get in the way’ making penetration difficult or painful. The loss of pelvic floor tone can result in loss of sensation for women and sometimes urine will leak during penetration.
Uterine Prolapse or Prolapsed Uterus
Quite often women in the late stages of pregnancy or early motherhood suffer from a vaginal prolapse. Vaginal Prolapse is the name given when the organs in your pelvis such as your bladder, uterus or bowel drop down into the vaginal area instead of sitting in their normal position higher up in the pelvis. This can cause a feeling of ‘heaviness’ in the vagina.
See photos of a Uterine Prolapse ->
See photos of a Rectal Prolapse ->
What causes a prolapse?
The organs of the pelvis are supported from above by ligaments and from below by the pelvic floor muscles and if either of these structures are weakened, the result can be a dropping down of the pelvic organs. This weakening can be caused by:
- Pregnancy – Not doing your pelvic floor exercises during and after pregnancy can result in a severely weakened pelvic floor that is no longer capable of effectively supporting your pelvic organs. This results in more pressure on the supporting ligaments above which, when placed under too much pressure, will stretch.
- Your body type can sometimes leave you more susceptible to stretched and loosened ligaments if you are prone to having softer connective tissue.
- Childbirth the pushing you do to get the baby out during childbirth further weakens and stretches the pelvic floor muscles. You will only avoid this if you have a caesarean with no pushing before hand. A bigger baby, extended pushing (2 hours or more) or a delivery aided with suction or forceps will result in even further stretching.
- Too much exertion after childbirth in the first few weeks after childbirth it is important to try and get as much rest as possible, not only for your sanity but to take the pressure off your pelvic floor as much as possible while it recovers. Returning to exercise too early can do more harm than good.
- Straining when emptying your bowels can also weaken the supportive muscles over time.
So what do I do If I think I’ve had a Prolapse?
For most women, the effects of prolapse after pregnancy are short term and gradually improve in the weeks and months following giving birth. Once the pressure of the weight of the baby is off your pelvic floor and the hormone relaxin is no longer affecting your system, things can start improving in as little as a week for some women. For some women prolapse never completely corrects itself and sometimes it is not until after women stop breastfeeding that they begin to notice real improvement. There are a few things you can do to help it improve the condition, including:
- Regular pelvic floor exercises, done lying down if possible.
- Space out your daily activities so you can rest in between and avoid lengthy periods of time on your feet. Lie down whenever possible.
- Minimise lifting and squatting and avoid abdominal crunches, curls and sit-ups. Return to gentle exercise only under doctors advice a minimum of six weeks after childbirth and always brace yourself before doing anything strenuous.
- It is ok to gently ‘push’ a bulge back into your vagina if you need too, but ensure your hands are clean and it is best to follow this with pelvic floor exercises done while lying down.
- Don’t push through the warning signs that something is wrong. If you don’t feel right or are getting pressure or heaviness in your pelvic area, lie down and seek medical help if needed.
Have you ever experienced any degree of prolapse? Did you find it improved well with time or did it require more attention, what are your best tips for helping to improve it?