Common Questions About Pelvic Organ Prolapse
Whether you’re just beginning your pelvic health journey, you’ve been living with pelvic organ prolapse (POP) for years, or you’re looking to support a loved one with POP, we want you to know that you are not alone. POP is very common; in fact, studies have found that around 25% of women will experience pelvic organ prolapse at some point in their lives. (However, the actual prevalence may be much higher. Percentages vary because POP is not widely talked about or studied.)
That means millions of women who are alive today have experienced or will experience some degree of prolapse. Many women first experience pelvic organ prolapse after childbirth, but it can also occur at other points throughout a woman’s life, including during menopause.
It’s part of our mission at Hem Support Wear to help normalize the conversation about pelvic floor health, so today, we’re discussing some commonly asked questions about the physical symptoms that many women experience.
What does pelvic organ prolapse feel like?
Everyone’s experience is unique, but many women feel heaviness or bulging in their vagina or pelvic area–you may have the sensation that something is “falling out.” This is the result of the weight of the prolapsed organ pressing down on surrounding tissue. Some people describe the feeling as “sitting on a ball” all the time, and others say it feels like they can’t fully empty their bladder. For some, these sensations last all day, whereas others experience them after an extended amount of time on their feet or after strenuous exercise.
Your pelvic floor muscles do a lot for you, and it’s very common to feel symptoms throughout other parts of your lower abdomen region. From painful intercourse to lower back pain to constipation, pelvic organ prolapse can cause a range of symptoms depending on its severity and your daily activities. Many women also experience urine leakage or a constant urge to use the restroom.
Some women have POP and do not experience symptoms at all. This is called asymptomatic pelvic organ prolapse. This contributes to the varying statistics on the prevalence of POP because people may have it and not realize it.
Can you see pelvic organ prolapse?
People experience varying degrees of pelvic organ prolapse and have varying levels of visibility. Some people may see tissue visibly bulging out of the vagina, appearing as something pink hanging out. Other people may not be able to see the prolapse but know they have it based on their symptoms. Your doctor may also be able to see POP during an exam to look for it or during your routine Pap smear.
It is worth noting that the visibility of POP can change over time. This can make it challenging to have a medical provider confirm that you have POP. In some cases, people will reach out to a medical provider with a suspicion they have POP only for the healthcare provider to say they do not have POP. If that happens to you, do not give up. Unfortunately, it may take a few tries before you find a provider who hears you and sees what you are seeing and can confirm your diagnosis.
Is POP an emergency?
While life-threatening complications are rare, pelvic organ prolapse can affect your physical, emotional, and social well-being. It can be life-altering. Your quality of life is important, and if your symptoms are preventing you from enjoying your everyday activities, let your healthcare provider know and seek help. There are lots of treatment options available, including support garments, pessaries, pelvic floor physical therapy services, and in some cases, surgery. If you have the means, working with a pelvic floor physical therapist will provide you with a personalized plan based on your specific symptoms and circumstances. Your healthcare providers can help you make the most informed and appropriate decisions based on your body and lifestyle, and get you back to enjoying your everyday activities.