Pelvic organ prolapse more common as women age

contributing columnistApril 4, 2014 

Pelvic organ prolapse is a pelvic floor disorder that can affect many women, and is particularly more common in women as they age. Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when the group of muscles that form a hammock across the pelvic opening to keep your pelvic organs in place weaken and one or more of the pelvic organs drops in the lower belly and pushes against the walls of the vagina. These organs include your bladder, uterus, vagina, small bowel and rectum.

Pelvic prolapse can be common in women who have had multiple children or given birth to large infants. Other causes of pelvic organ prolapse include obesity, hysterectomy and pelvic organ cancers. As women age, pelvic organ prolapse and other pelvic floor disorders become more common.

According to the American Urogynecologic Society, the incidence of pelvic organ prolapse increases after childbearing and as women increase in age. It is estimated that nearly 50 percent of all women between the ages of 50 and 79 have some form of prolapse.

Anything that puts increased pressure in the abdomen can lead to pelvic organ prolapse. Symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse include pressure in the pelvic area, low back pain, constipation, spotting or bleeding and painful intercourse. Symptoms can vary depending on the organ that is drooping. For example, if the bladder is drooping, women may experience incontinence or urine leakage.

Pelvic organ prolapse can be diagnosed during a routine pelvic exam or using a variety of tests including ultrasound.

Some patients can benefit from non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy to strengthen pelvic floor muscles. However, when surgery is needed, there are various options for treatment.

Approximately 300,000 procedures for correction of pelvic organ prolapse are performed each year in the United States.

As with many surgical procedures, medical advances continue to make the treatment of pelvic organ prolapse safer and less invasive.

The latest option includes the use of biologic patches that are absorbable and simulate cells to regenerate tissue. This new tissue then works to hold the pelvic organs in place. Biological patches do not create scar tissue or cause the complications that vaginal mesh has been known to produce. The biologic patches are FDA approved and can be placed through a robotically-assisted minimally invasive procedure. These types of patches are also used to heal wounds by regenerating skin, nail and other human tissue.

An estimated one-third of all women are affected by pelvic organ prolapse or similar conditions over their lifetime. If you have symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse, talk to your doctor. Once diagnosed, research your options for treatment and talk with your doctor about the right one for you.

Dr. Magdalene Karon is an obstetrician and gynecologist practicing at Saint Joseph East, part of KentuckyOne Health

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