Your pelvic muscles and tissues wrap around and support your pelvic organs to keep them in place. Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when the uterus, rectum, bladder, urethra, small bowel, or vagina fall out of their normal positions and into or out of the vaginal canal. Approximately 3% of U.S. women suffer from pelvic organ prolapse.1
Pelvic organ prolapse is usually caused by damage to the tissues (muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue) that support the pelvic organs. Damage, weakening, or stretching of these tissues allow the organs to move out of their normal positions. This causes them to press against (and sometimes move) the inside walls of the vagina.2 The type of pelvic organ prolapse a woman experiences depends on the pelvic organ affected.
The greatest risk factors for pelvic organ prolapse are:1
- Pregnancy and vaginal delivery
- Increased intra-abdominal pressure (from a chronic cough, habitual straining, heavy lifting, or constipation)
- Advancing age
In some cases, pelvic organ prolapse also happens after a hysterectomy.1
Symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse can differ depending on which pelvic organ is affected. Sometimes, multiple pelvic organs can prolapse, causing an exacerbation or combination of symptoms.3
The primary and most noticeable symptom of prolapse is a bulge in the vagina that can be seen or felt, caused from pressure from the prolapse. As result, women with pelvic organ prolapse may also feel uncomfortable pressure during physical activity or sex.1
Other symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse include:1
- Seeing or feeling a bulge or "something coming out" of the vagina
- A feeling of pressure, discomfort, aching, or fullness in the pelvis
- Pelvic pressure that gets worse with standing or coughing or as the day goes on
- Leaking urine (incontinence) or problems having a bowel movement
- Problems inserting tampons
For some women, symptoms are worse at certain times of the day, during physical activity, or after standing for a long time.1 If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, make an appointment to talk to your doctor so you can determine what may be causing your symptoms.
- Office on Women’s Health. Pelvic organ prolapse. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/pelvic-organ-prolapse. Accessed March 2019.
- Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School Mayo Clinic. (Data on file)
- Pelvic Organ Prolapse. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pelvic-organ-prolapse/care-at-mayo-clinic/mac-20360560. Accessed March 2019.
- Cleveland Clinic. Pelvic Organ Prolapse: Treatment. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17344-pelvic-organ-prolapse/treatment. Accessed March 2019.