What Is Pelvic Organ Prolapse?

What Is Pelvic Organ Prolapse

When Jenni was 29, she had her first child. A beautiful baby boy, she was ecstatic, and completely in love, despite the long labor she had suffered. But after several weeks, Jenni began to suspect something was wrong. She had expected to feel some discomfort after childbirth, (especially after pushing for several hours), but still, something didn’t feel right.

At her 6-week appointment, her doctor told her everything was looking good, but a few weeks later, Jenni felt a heaviness and in the shower, she felt a small bulge at the opening of her vagina while washing.

“I was horrified,” she said. “I thought something was truly wrong with me.”

Right away, Jenni called her doctor and explained her symptoms.  Her doctor calmly told her she may have a prolapse, a condition where the pelvic floor becomes too weak to hold up the surrounding organs, and caves into itself.

“It’s very common,” he told her, and after an appointment to confirm, he gave her a referral to a women’s health physical therapist.

Jenni’s story is not uncommon. Many women live with pelvic organ prolapse, which is caused by a weakening of the pelvic floor.  Some see symptoms after something like childbirth, but many women may not even realize that they are susceptible until later in life, with the symptoms appear.  

Unfortunately, many women believe this is a normal part of aging, or are too embarrassed to talk to anyone about it, including their doctor. Unlike Jenni, these women suffer in silence and live in discomfort for years, limiting their activities and even their social and personal life because of the symptoms. 

But pelvic organ prolapse is a treatable condition. Read below for answers to some of the most common questions we hear about pelvic organ prolapse. 

What is Pelvic Organ Prolapse anyway?

Before we get into the ins and outs of prolapse, let’s briefly review the pelvic floor and it’s function.  The pelvic floor muscles are a vital part of a woman’s anatomy.  This web of muscles is shaped sort of like a basket and holds up three key organs:  the bladder, rectum, and uterus.  When the tissues and the muscles become too weak, one or more of these organs can fall into the vaginal area, and may even protrude out of the vagina.  This is a pelvic organ prolapse. 

Why does pelvic organ prolapse happen?

Pelvic organ prolapse happens due to a weak pelvic floor. There can be many causes of this, including vaginal childbirth, long-term pressure on your abdomen (from a chronic cough, or straining during a bowel movement), giving birth to a large baby (over 8.5 pounds), aging, or even hormonal changes during menopause.  Sometimes symptoms show up early on, but for many, they may not realize that they have a weak pelvic floor until later in life, when symptoms start progressing. 

What are the symptoms of a pelvic organ prolapse?

The symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse may differ in both type, and severity, depending on how severe the prolapse is.  Many women with pelvic organ prolapse report feeling a general discomfort in the vaginal area.  They may feel a heaviness or pressure, or an achy feeling in the vagina, especially after standing for long periods of time, during sex, or with lots of physical activity.  Some women may also suffer from urinary incontinence. More severe sufferers may see or feel one of their pelvic organs bulging out of the vagina, or have a feeling like they are sitting on a ball 

Is pelvic organ prolapse dangerous?

Pelvic organ prolapse is not a life-threatening condition, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be treated.  Pelvic organ prolapse can cause a lot of physical discomfort, and can negatively impact a person’s quality of life. There are many ways to treat pelvic organ prolapse so there’s no reason anyone should let it go untreated.

How is pelvic organ prolapse diagnosed?

A physician must diagnose pelvic organ prolapse. Because some symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse may disappear when lying down for a physical exam, your doctor may perform different tests to see if they are able to detect the prolapse. Asking you to cough, or performing a pelvic exam while standing in order to see to see the protruding organ are common techniques for detecting pelvic organ prolapse. Your doctor may use other tests too, such as an ultrasound, an MRI scan of the pelvis, or bladder health tests, if you’re experiencing incontinence.

Is pelvic organ prolapse reversible? 

There are many ways to treat pelvic organ prolapse, and in many cases, symptoms can be greatly improved, but pelvic organ prolapse will never go away on its own.

If you’ve recently had a baby and have been diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse, there is a good chance that your symptoms may improve with time.  Hormones can play a big part of changing the pelvic floor too, so waiting for them to return to normal after baby is born, and after breastfeeding may provide some relief.  In addition, your body takes some time to recover after carrying a baby for 9 months and then giving birth, so you need to allow it time to recover. There is a good chance that with time, and the proper pelvic floor exercises, your symptoms will greatly improve. 

For women who experience pelvic organ prolapse later in life, there are ways to treat it so that your symptoms are not as severe.  But the muscles will never completely return to normal after experiencing a prolapse.

How to fix pelvic organ prolapse

There are many ways to treat pelvic organ prolapse, and choosing which one may depend on the severity of the problem, as well as what life stage you’re in.

Many people with pelvic organ prolapse can benefit from seeing a women’s health physical therapist.  These professionals are trained in dealing with pelvic floor dysfunction and can not only provide guidance on the right exercises to do, but can also guide you in learning how to do them correctly. Things like kegels are often hard to teach, but by using biofeedback machines and other helpful techniques, a PT can guide you through the exercises and ensure they are being done effectively.  Over time, these exercises can strengthen the pelvic floor, providing greater control over bladder leaks, and lessening the uncomfortable symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse. 

In addition to physical therapy, many women choose to use a pessary, a small device that is inserted into the vagina and helps hold up the pelvic organs.  This device is prescribed by a doctor and is typically fitted for each patient in the doctor’s office.  It may take several tries to find the right fit. 

If you suffer from constipation, your doctor may prescribe a special diet designed to help your bowels move more regularly, as straining on the toilet can exacerbate symptoms of a prolapse and make them worse.

Finally, if your symptoms are severe, your doctor may recommend surgery to help hold the organs in place.  Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of surgery, and the risks associated with this type of procedure. 

(Note: It’s recommended that you wait to have surgery until you’re finished having children, as the benefits of the surgery may be undone with childbirth.) 

It can initially be scary to discover that you have pelvic organ prolapse. But so much can be done to treat the condition that you should never put off discussing the problem with your doctor.   

NAFC has many wonderful physical therapists listed in our doctor finder. If you’re experiencing symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse, visit it here to find a specialist in your area and make an appointment to discuss treatment today!

 

 

8 Most Common Questions About Fistulas - Answered!

8 Common Questions About Fistulas - Answered!

If you’ve been diagnosed with a fistula, you may have some questions about what it is, why you have it, and what can be done. Keep reading below for answers to some of the most common questions we receive about fistulas.

1. What is a fistula?

The definition of a fistula is an abnormal passageway that connects two organs or vessels that do not usually connect. The most common type of fistula is around the anus. 

2. What causes a fistula?

 Within the anus, there are glands that create fluid. Sometimes these can become blocked and infected, creating what is called an abscess. This is the most common cause of a fistula, although fistulas can sometimes be caused by other conditions as well, such as Crohn’s disease, sexually transmitted diseases, or cancer.

3. What are symptoms of a Fistula?

Fistulas can be very embarrassing, as well as uncomfortable. Pain is a frequent symptom, as well as frequent abscesses, foul-smelling discharge, and painful bowel movements. Skin irritation can also develop due to infections and excess fluid being discharged.

4. How serious is a fistula?

Fistulas can cause a lot of discomfort, and if left untreated, may cause serious complications. Some fistulas can cause a bacteria infection, which may result in sepsis, a dangerous condition that can lead to low blood pressure, organ damage or even death. Luckily there are many treatments available for fistulas so that more serious complications don’t occur.

5. How is a fistula diagnosed?

If you are noticing any symptoms of a fistula – abdominal pain, discharge, a change in your bowel habits, severe diarrhea – talk to your doctor right away.  Diagnosing an external fistula is relatively simple since the doctor is able to see it. He or she may send any discharge that occurs to a lab for analysis, and may also perform blood tests to help confirm the diagnosis. 

If the fistula is internal, diagnosis may be harder. Your doctor may perform an endoscope to see inside, or perform ultrasounds, CTs, or X-rays to find the fistula.

6. Is a fistula a sign of cancer?

An anal fistula is a very rare sign of cancer. However, if left untreated for a long time, a fistula may lead to cancer. A fistula may also develop as a result of radiation therapy.

7. Can a fistula heal on its own?  

In some cases, fistulas may close up, but then reopen. Typically, fistulas do not heal on their own without treatment.

8. How is a fistula treated?

There are different options when treating a fistula, depending on the severity.  For small fistulas, your doctor may perform an in office procedure. A fistulotomy may be done to open and drain the fistula. Your doctor may also be able to use stitches to seal the fistula, allowing it to heal.

Larger fistulas will require surgery to close them properly.  Post surgery, you may be prescribed pain killers, antibiotics to prevent infections, and stool softeners to make bowel movements easier while healing. 

The healing process may take just a few days or weeks if the fistula was small, but larger fistulas can take a longer time to heal, and may even require additional surgeries.  Be sure to keep the area clean, especially after bowel movements. Moist pads may help this process. Taking warm baths can also be soothing and can help the treated area clean.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a fistula, don’t wait to talk to your doctor. Seek treatment and learn the options available to you – treatment may be easier than you think, and in most every case, is better than letting it go untreated.

 

Why You Should See A Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist

October is Physical Therapy Awareness Month! NAFC has long been a proponent for physical therapy as a treatment option for things like urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. Read on to learn more about how a PT may be able to help you treat these conditions.

Read More

Secrets For Aging Gracefully

Secrets For Aging Gracefully

It happens to all of us – one minute we’re prancing around in our 20s and the next we look in the mirror and wonder where the time went. Aging is a fact of life, and one that no one can avoid.

But there are ways to ensure that you sail into your golden years. 

Read on for our best tips on aging gracefully.

Think Young.

It may sound impossible, but research has actually shown that you can think yourself young. A number of studies have shown that we have the power to perceive time differently, and that the more we engage in “can do” thinking as we age, the better off we’ll be. Don’t fall into the mindset of thinking you can’t do something just because you’re a little older. Science shows that if you think you can’t do something, limit your life or the things you try just because of your numerical age, you might actually age faster. But the same is true of the opposite. Think yourself young and you’ll be much better off.  (This is a great article on aging and studies that have been done on perceived time and mindset.)

 

Keep Moving.

Staying young means staying active. Exercise has many benefits and is an important part of keeping your muscles toned, staving off chronic conditions, and keeping your mental state strong. And, regular exercise can actually make you look younger. It’s never too late to start. And you don’t have to suddenly become a body builder or a marathoner to see results. Find a workout you love and stick with it. Walking, swimming, yoga or biking are all great options. Just do something. As is often said, move it or lose it.

 

Eat Well.

Watching what you eat is always important. Healthy eating not only gives helps you maintain a healthy weight, it gives you good energy and helps fight off certain diseases. Many foods can even make you look better! Check out this roundup of some of the best foods you can eat to look younger.

 

Reduce Stress

It’s probably no secret that being stressed out can wreak havoc on your health on both the inside and the outside. Too much stress can lead to things like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and even diabetes. Stress can also affect your mood, create lack of motivation, cause sleeping problems, and fatigue. Stress may even lead to a higher risk of premature death.

Learn ways to alleviate stress to avoid these health pitfalls.  Meditation and yoga can help calm the mind, and regular exercise can be a great stress reliever. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep to conquer your days, and if you’re really down, give a friend a call to talk through it. It’s amazing what a short conversation with someone you care about can do.

 

Take up a new hobby.

Studies have shown that learning something new can help improve our memory and overall brain health. Not only that, it adds a bit of excitement and spark to life that can keep us fulfilled and happy during our golden years.

Learning something new gives us new perspective on life and opens us up to new experiences.

Need some ideas? Learning a new language, drawing, knitting, learning to play a new instrument, or even just trying out a new recipe are all great places to start.

 

Take proper care of your health.

One of the best ways to stay young is prevention. Take basic care of yourself by making sure to see your doctor and dentist regularly. Stay up to date on your health tests as you age. Get good sleep. Wear sunscreen. These are the little things you do every day that may not seem like much, but can make a big difference in the long term. 


Have any of your own tips on how to stay young? Share them with us in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

Patient Perspective: It Doesn't Matter How Old You Are - Incontinence Is Not Normal!

Patient Perspective: Incontinence Is Not Normal

At 70 years old, you’d think that I’d have come to terms with having incontinence. But time has a way of making you see that some things you thought were normal actually weren’t at all.

The leaks started in my 50’s and at the time, I chalked it up to just growing older. I started wearing absorbent pads for protection and just went on living my life. My leaks started to get worse as I got older, and in my late 60’s I finally talked to my doctor about it. He asked me during a routine check up about my bladder habits and I told him I’d been having leaks for years. I tried to brush it off like it was no big deal (it was a bit embarrassing to talk about), but he kept pressing me, asking me more details and taking notes.

Finally, he told me that he wished I had told him about the leaks sooner, since there is so much that can be done to treat bladder leaks.  He said no one should have to live with bladder control issues and that it absolutely is NOT a normal part of aging.

I felt so foolish for having believed all those years that it was just my body breaking down, getting older. Turns out that I was able to start a medication that really helped eliminate (mostly) my accidents. And there are even more treatments besides medications that I can try if I decide to.

Now that I’ve treated my incontinence, I feel freer at 70 years old than I did when I was in my late 50’s. I only wish I had opened up about it sooner to my doctor. 

Don’t wait to talk about it. Don’t let the years pass you by living with incontinence. It’s just not worth it when so much can be done.

Abby M.,

Boston, MA