What is vaginal prolapse?
Prolapse occurs when a woman’s pelvic floor muscles, tissues and ligaments weaken and stretch. This can result in organs dropping out of their normal position. Vaginal prolapse refers to when the top of the vagina — also called the vaginal vault — sags and falls into the vaginal canal. In severe cases, the vagina can protrude outside of the body.
What causes vaginal prolapse?
There are no direct causes of vaginal prolapse. However, women are at an increased risk of developing vaginal prolapse if they:
- Delivered children vaginally, especially repeat deliveries
- Are approaching or experiencing menopause
- Have certain lifestyle factors, including being overweight
- Were born with a rare condition, such as bladder exstrophy
Vaginal Prolapse After Hysterectomy
Hysterectomy, a surgery to remove a woman’s uterus, is sometimes performed to treat uterine prolapse. However, vaginal prolapse can occur after hysterectomy (regardless of the reason for hysterectomy). This is called “vaginal prolapse after hysterectomy.”
How common is vaginal prolapse?
Vaginal prolapse is relatively common. About one-third of women will experience some degree of prolapse during their lifetime. If you have more than one risk factor, your chances of developing vaginal prolapse increase.
What are the signs and symptoms of vaginal prolapse?
Women with vaginal prolapse often report feeling pressure in the vaginal area, described as a throbbing pain in the vagina. Women also report:
- Vaginal fullness (such as the feeling that something is stuck in the vagina)
- The sensation that something is falling out of her vagina
Additional Vaginal Prolapse Symptoms
The pelvic organs are all supported by each other. When one organ prolapses, it can affect the functioning of other nearby organs. Thus, some women also experience:
- Changes in bowel function, such as difficulty having a bowel movement
- Changes in bladder function, such as inability to empty the bladder
- Secondary prolapses, specifically rectocele prolapse (sagging of the connective tissue between the vagina and rectum) or cystocele prolapse (sagging of the connective tissue between the vagina and the bladder).
- Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Difficulty using tampons
How is a vaginal prolapse diagnosed?
Your doctor will review your medical and surgical history and complete a physical exam. Additional tests, such as ultrasound or MRI, are rarely needed. In some cases, your doctor may also recommend urodynamics testing, a group of tests that evaluate bladder function.
How is vaginal prolapse treated?
Treatment for vaginal prolapse varies, depending on the severity of the symptoms. Many cases will not require treatment. In mild cases, your physician may recommend pelvic floor exercises to strengthen the muscles. In moderate cases, your doctor may insert a vaginal pessary to support your vaginal wall. In the most severe cases, you may benefit from surgery, such as colposuspension, a minimally invasive surgical procedure, where the vaginal wall is attached to a stable ligament in the pelvis.