Vaginal prolapse is the inward and downward bulging of the vaginal walls. It occurs when the supporting tissues of the lower pelvis weaken. The lack of support causes the walls of the vagina walls to collapse. Other structures or organs near the vagina are also shifted. Types of vaginal prolapse include:
The severity of vaginal prolapse may be simply defined as:
- First degree—collapse into the upper part of the vagina
- Second degree—collapse further into the vaginal canal
- Third degree—collapse that reaches the vaginal opening or extends beyond the opening
There are more sophisticated ways of measuring and describing prolapses. Specialist physicians will use them.
Vaginal prolapse is caused by weakened support structures in the pelvic region. Support tissue includes fascia (a fibrous tissue), ligaments, and muscles.
Pelvic Floor Muscles and Organs
The following factors increase your chance of developing vaginal prolapse:
Vaginal prolapse may not cause any symptoms. But when it does, the symptoms may include:
- Vaginal pressure
- A feeling of vaginal fullness or heaviness
- A feeling of pulling in the pelvis
- Discomfort in the vagina
- Low backache that is relieved with lying down
- Urinary frequency
- Urination when laughing, coughing, or exercising
- Difficulty with bowel movements
- Painful intercourse
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Vaginal prolapse that has no symptoms may be diagnosed during routine gynecologic examinations. Your doctor may refer you to a gynecologist, who will perform 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:
Kegel exercises consist of a conscious effort to ‘squeeze’ the pelvic muscles. It should feel like you were trying to prevent urination. Each ‘squeeze’ (contraction) of the muscles should be held for 10 seconds, and then relaxed. Repeat a total of ten times for each exercise period. The entire routine should be repeated four times per day.
Your doctor may insert a pessary into the upper portion of the vagina. A pessary is a rubbery, doughnut-shaped device. It helps to prop up the uterus and bladder.
Vaginal prolapse that is severe or associated with lasting symptoms may require surgery. Surgery, called pelvic reconstruction, usually includes colporrhaphy and perhaps hysterectomy. Colporrhaphy is the surgical repair of the pelvic support structures. The vagina is also sutured to a stable structure to suspend it.
If you are diagnosed with vaginal prolapse, follow your doctor's instructions.
To help prevent vaginal prolapse:
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Canadian Women's Health Network
Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Uterine prolapse. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?marketID=15topicID=81. Accessed February 28, 2007.
Uterine and vaginal prolapse. Merck website. Available at: http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec18/ch250/ch250c.html. Accessed February 28, 2007.
Vaginal prolapse. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: http://cms.clevelandclinic.org/urology/body.cfm?id=117. Accessed February 28, 2007.
*¹5/11/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Fritel X, Varnoux N, Zins M, Breart G, Ringa V. Symptomatic pelvic organ prolapse at midlife, quality of life, and risk factors. Obstet Gynecol. 2009;113:609-616.
Last reviewed November 2008 by
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