Vaginal prolapse is the inward and downward bulging of the vaginal walls.
The severity of vaginal prolapse may be defined as:
- First degree—collapse into the upper part of the vagina
- Second degree—collapse further into the vaginal canal, down to the level of the vaginal opening
- Third degree—collapse that extends beyond the opening
Vaginal prolapse is caused by weakened support structures in the pelvic region. The lack of support causes the walls of the vagina to weaken, sag, and collapse.
Pelvic Floor Muscles and Organs
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Your risk of vaginal prolapse increases with age. Other factors include:
Symptoms may include:
- Pelvic pressure
- A feeling of vaginal fullness or heaviness
- A feeling of pulling in the pelvis
- Vaginal discomfort
- Urinary urgency and frequency
- Urination when laughing, sneezing, coughing, or exercising
- Difficult or painful intercourse
- Low backache that is relieved with lying down
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Vaginal prolapse that has no symptoms may be diagnosed during routine examinations. You may be referred to a gynecologist, who will do a pelvic exam.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. First or second degree prolapse without symptoms may not require treatment. Treatment options include:
involve tensing the muscles around the vagina and anus, holding for several seconds, then releasing. The repetition of this exercise will help to tone pelvic muscles.
Estrogen therapy may be advised. This may help prevent further weakness of the pelvic floor.
A pessary may be inserted into the upper portion of the vagina. A pessary is a rubbery, doughnut-shaped device. It helps to prop up the uterus and bladder. Pessary placement is more often used in older women.
Vaginal prolapse that is severe or associated with lasting symptoms may require surgery. Surgery may involve repairing the pelvic floor structure or, in some cases, to suture the vagina.
To help prevent vaginal prolapse:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- To avoid constipation, eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.
If you smoke,
talk to your doctor about ways to quit. Smoking may cause chronic coughing and weakening of connective tissues.
- Limit heavy lifting.
Pelvic organ prolapse. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 10, 2014. Accessed March 18, 2014.
Pelvic organ prolapse. International Urogynecological Association website. Available at:
http://www.iuga.org/resource/resmgr/Brochures/eng_pop.pdf. Published 2011. Accessed March 18, 2014.
Pelvic relaxation syndromes. Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. Available at:
Updated December 2013. Accessed March 18, 2014.
5/11/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Fritel X, Varnoux N, Zins M, Breart G, Ringa V. Symptomatic pelvic organ prolapse at midlife, quality of life, and risk factors.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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