Your pelvis is the lower part of your belly, below your navel and between your hips. There are a lot of organs in this tight space -- your bladder, cervix, intestines, rectum, urethra, uterus, and vagina.
Sometimes, the muscles and other kinds of tissue that hold everything in place get stretched out, weak, or torn. When that happens, some of your body parts can drop down below where they’re supposed to be. Some of your body tissue can stick out of your vagina. This is called prolapse. It can affect all the organs in your pelvis.
Nearly half of all women between ages 50 and 79 have at least a little bit of pelvic organ prolapse (POP). It doesn’t always cause symptoms, so you could actually have it and not know it. Men can get POP, too, if their bladders or rectums drop down.
What Causes Pelvic Organ Prolapse?
Pregnancy puts you at risk of POP, but vaginal delivery raises your risk (as opposed to a C-section). Repeated deliveries raise your risk.
Other things make it likelier you'll have POP, such as:
- Having surgery or radiation on your pelvic area
- Breaking your back or the bones in your pelvis
- Chronic constipation, because of the pushing and straining
- Chronic cough (it puts pressure on your pelvic organs)
- Doing a lot of heavy lifting over and over
- Getting older
- Having family members who have it
- Being white
- Having a hysterectomy
- Giving birth for the first time at a young age
Are There Any Complications?
Pelvic organ prolapse is rarely life threatening. But it can cause a few problems, such as:
- Bladder control problems (urinary incontinence)
- A kink in the urethra, the tube that carries your urine outside your body. This can make it hard to pee.
- Bowel control problems (fecal incontinence), with liquid or solid stools coming out
- Problems having bowel movements when stools get trapped
- Pain during sex
- Urinary tract infections
- Kidney damage if it blocks your pee
Can I Prevent Pelvic Organ Prolapse?
There are things you can do to tighten your pelvic muscles and reduce your risk. For instance, Kegel exercises can help strengthen the nerves and muscles in your pelvis. Making certain lifestyle changes might help, too.
If you’re overweight, for example, try to shed some pounds. Overweight women are more likely to get POP than those who maintain a healthy weight. Drink lots of fluids and eat high-fiber foods. This will help you to avoid constipation. Remember, constantly pushing and straining will only make the prolapse worse.
Try not to lift anything heavy. If you must, learn to lift the right way --with your legs, not your back or abs.
If you smoke, stop. Smoking increases your risk of POP. And see a doctor about any health issues you might have, like a cough that won’t go away. Coughing puts pressure on your pelvic muscles and can make your prolapse worse.