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Pelvic Organ Prolapse

A common source of pelvic and vaginal discomfort attends the "prolapse" or shifting of our pelvic organs after childbirth, hysterectomy, or with aging as our muscles and tissues lose their elasticity and strength.

Many of us have heard about uterine prolapse, when the uterus shifts and descends into the vagina. But did you know that the bladder, the rectum, and the small bowel, too, can shift to cause vaginal bulges, pressure, and discomfort? 

Pelvic organ prolapse can cause urinary and bowel dysfunction and back pain. It usually is not a cause of pain with intercourse, but many women (and men too) are reluctant to engage in intercourse fearing it may worsen the problem: It won't. Go ahead and engage in sexual activity that remains comfortable for you.

If you have symptoms like these, and especially if you notice a lump or bulge at the opening of your vagina, it's time to discuss the possibility of pelvic organ prolapse with your doctor. 

Kegel exercises that tone the pelvic muscles can help keep organs in their place.

Your doctor can determine the extent of the prolapse and help you find the best way to manage the condition.

Prolapse management depends on the severity of the situation, and can include Kegel exercises, work with a physical therapist, use of pessary devices that hold your organs in place, estrogen supplementation, or corrective surgery.

One in four women over the age of 40 experience some level of pelvic organ prolapse as she ages. Carrying excess weight contributes to the problem, as does lack of exercise. It's another good reason to stay physically active and keep your pelvic muscles toned as you age.

Learn about the actions you could take, listed at right, to address this condition or see other conditions that could affect you.