The term “prolapse” refers to the displacement of a body part or organ from its normal position. What does prolapse have to do with menopause? Before we find out, let’s learn a bit more about prolapse and then, more importantly, what you can do about it as it refers to menopause.
What is prolapse?
Prolapse of a body part, such as the vagina, rectum, or uterus, usually occurs when the supportive tissues become weak. Reasons for this weakness vary from having undergone a hysterectomy to vaginal birth, heavy lifting, being overweight or obese, or family history of this condition. One five-year study, for example, found that more than 13 percent of overweight or obese women between the ages of 50 and 70 developed uterine prolapse.
How is prolapse associated with menopause?
As estrogen levels decline during perimenopause and menopause, the structures and tissues that support the pelvic organs in place become thinner and weaker. The lining of the vagina, for example, becomes thinner. This and other organ thinning can result in pelvic organ prolapse, in which one or more organs (e.g., bladder, uterus, vagina, urethra, rectum) drops down out of place.
Once one or more organs drops, it may press against the vaginal walls and cause a bulge in this organ that may protrude into the vaginal opening. For some women, the prolapse may get its start when they undergo one or more vaginal births. However, the prolapse only becomes evident once the tissue deteriorates after menopause.
Symptoms associated with pelvic organ prolapse can include discomfort or pain, problems with urination, pressure in the vagina or pelvis, feeling like something is protruding from your vagina, urinary incontinence, bowel movement difficulty, lower back pain, painful sexual intercourse, and emotional distress.
How can you manage prolapse naturally?
It’s a challenge to manage pelvic organ prolapse naturally. Let’s look at your options.
- Maintaining a healthy weight is important because the less pressure on your pelvic region, the better. If you are overweight or obese, the time to begin losing weight is now.
- Although some women experience chronic constipation and have learned to live with it, it’s not recommended! In fact, constipation places excessive pressure on your pelvic region, which can make pelvic organ prolapse worse. If you are not eating at least 25 grams of fiber daily, then gradually increase your intake to help move stool along and prevent constipation.
- Lifting heavy objects is not recommended. When you lift heavy objects, you place excessive pressure on your pelvic floor muscles, which can increase the risk of prolapse.
- Perhaps you’ve heard of Kegel exercises, which can help with urinary incontinence and sexual pleasure. Well, they are also helpful for strengthening your pelvic floor muscles and supporting your bladder, uterus, and intestines. Practice these exercises twice a day for just a few minutes each time and you should have results within weeks.
- A pessary can be inserted into the vagina to hold the dropping organs in place. In some cases the pessary can be removed and cleaned by the patient; in others it must be done by a healthcare professional. If you choose this approach, be sure to ask your provider how it works.
- Some doctors will recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which can help strengthen the vaginal structures. There are low-dose vaginal estrogen treatments involving creams, vaginal rings, and tablets. HRT is associated with serious side effects, however, so be informed before making your decision.
when to see your doctor
If you are experiencing any of the following, make an appointment to see your doctor. Moderate to severe pelvic organ prolapse may include tissue protruding from your vagina, urine leakage, urine retention, or a sensation of heaviness or pulling your pelvic region.
Pelvic organ prolapse affects about 50 percent of women. Lifestyle changes can be effective in preventing prolapse from recurring. If you have any concerns about this condition, consult your physician.