Annual checkups with a gynecologist allow for preventive treatment and early detection of health problems. However, there are times when these routine visits are not enough. Certain issues and life changes require a visit to the gynecologist between regular checkups.While waiting until one’s next annual checkup may be okay, scheduling a visit between these appointments…
What Causes Uterine Prolapse?
It is common for women to develop some form of uterine prolapse, especially as they age. Though it often does not cause symptoms, in some cases, this condition can be embarrassing, cause discomfort, and interfere with daily life. However, understanding the causes behind uterine prolapse can help women with prevention and treatment.
What is uterine prolapse?
The uterus is a female sex organ that holds a developing fetus. It is a pear-shaped muscular organ held in place by muscles and ligaments. However, when these muscles and ligaments stretch or weaken, the uterus can start to sag or slip out of position.
Prolapse can range from moderate to severe and can be incomplete or complete. A woman has incomplete uterine prolapse when her uterus only slightly sags into the vagina or birth canal. However, when part of the uterus protrudes through the vaginal and outside the body, it is considered a complete uterine prolapse. According to John Hopkins Medicine, nearly half of female patients between the ages of 50 and 79 have some form of the condition.
Symptoms of uterine prolapse
In mild cases, patients may not notice symptoms or be bothered by them. However, as prolapse becomes more severe, symptoms become more distressing. Symptoms of moderate to severe uterine prolapse include:
- Fullness/pressure in the pelvis
- Lower back pain
- Feeling tissue bulging out of the vagina
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Discomfort while walking
- Trouble urinating
- Increased discharge or vaginal bleeding
Patients experiencing these symptoms should see a doctor for treatment, as they can continue to worsen and impair bowel, bladder, and sexual function.
Causes of uterine prolapse
Uterine prolapse occurs when the muscles and tissue that support the uterus weaken over time. This weakening happens largely due to vaginal childbirth and other conditions that weaken the pelvic floor muscles. For example, chronic coughing and straining due to constipation can contribute to this condition. Certain surgeries can weaken pelvic muscles as well. Age is another significant factor. When women go through menopause, the loss of estrogen can lead to a weakening pelvic floor.
As with many conditions, genetics is a leading risk factor for uterine prolapse. Women with a family history of this condition or weak connective tissue are more likely to suffer. Other factors that increase the likelihood of this condition include:
- Multiple vaginal delivries
- Being post-menopausal
- Having chronic constipation
- Prior pelvic surgery
- Excessive weight lifting
Women who have their first baby at an older age and women who deliver large babies are also at increased risk of uterine prolapse.
The good news is that women can take steps to prevent uterine prolapse, especially if they have many of these risk factors. Quitting smoking, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight will help reduce the risk and promote good health in general. Treating any conditions that lead to chronic coughing and constipation is also advised. Everyone should lift from the legs and not the waist when doing heavy lifting, and for women, this can reduce the risk of uterine prolapse.
Kegel exercises are an excellent preventative measure and, once learned, can be done just about anywhere. A standard way to identify the kegal muscles is to stop urinating midstream. The muscles one uses to do this are the kegel muscles. One can practice by repeatedly contracting and relaxing these muscles. It can take practice getting used to kegel exercises, and women are encouraged to talk to their gynecologist for suggestions on how to approach kegel exercises.
There are non-surgical treatments for more severe cases of uterine prolapse. One common option is a device called a vaginal pessary that supports the uterus. This rubber or plastic doughnut-shaped device is custom-made to fit under or around the cervix (the lower part of the uterus). The patient must clean the device frequently and remove it before sex.
There are two main surgical options for this condition. Uterine prolapse can be treated with a hysterectomy (the removal of the uterus). However, prolapse repair may be an option for women who wish to avoid a hysterectomy. The procedure involves returning the uterus to its correct position and reattaching the pelvic ligaments to hold it in place. Women should thoroughly discuss the pros and cons of each option when deciding what is right for their unique situation.
Concerned about uterine prolapse? We can help
Uterine prolapse can be uncomfortable to deal with and embarrassing to talk about. We at Camilla L. Marquez, MD want you to know you are not alone, and this is a common problem many women face. We also want you to know there are many options for prevention and treatment. Call our team today to learn more about the causes and treatment options for uterine prolapse.
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