What is uterine prolapse?
A uterine prolapse is a condition where the internal supports of the uterus become weak over time. The uterus is one of the organs that makes up part of your reproductive system. Also called the womb, the uterus is located in your pelvis and is roughly shaped like a pear. During pregnancy, the uterus holds the developing baby. It actually stretches through the pregnancy to fit the baby and then shrinks back down in size after delivery.
Prolapses can vary depending on how weak the supports of the uterus have gotten. In an incomplete prolapse, the uterus may have slipped enough to be partway in the vagina (birth canal). This creates a lump or bulge. In a more severe case, the uterus can slip far enough that it is felt outside of the vagina. This is called a complete prolapse.
Who gets uterine prolapse?
Uterine prolapse is most likely to happen in women who:
- Have had one or more vaginal deliveries.
- Are post-menopausal.
- Have family members who have had prolapse.
Menopause occurs when your ovaries stop producing the hormones that regulate your monthly menstrual cycle (period). When you haven’t had a period for 12 straight months, you are considered menopausal. One of the hormones that stops during menopause is estrogen. This particular hormone helps keep your pelvic muscles strong. Without it, you are at a higher risk of developing a prolapse.
How common is uterine prolapse?
Uterine prolapse is a fairly common condition. Your risk of developing the condition increases with age. You are also at a higher risk of uterine prolapses if you have had multiple vaginal deliveries during childbirth throughout your life.
What causes uterine prolapse?
Your uterus is held in place within the pelvis by a group of muscles and ligaments. You may hear this called the pelvic floor muscles. When these structures weaken, they become unable to hold the uterus in position, and it begins to sag. Several factors can contribute to the weakening of the pelvic muscles, including:
- Loss of muscle tone as the result of aging.
- Injury during childbirth, especially if you have had many babies or large babies (more than 9 pounds).
- Chronic coughing or straining.
- Chronic constipation.
What are the symptoms of uterine prolapse?
If you have a mild case of uterine prolapse, you may not have any obvious symptoms. However, as the uterus slips further out of position, it can place pressure on other pelvic organs—such as the bladder or bowel—and cause symptoms like:
- A feeling of heaviness or pressure in the pelvis.
- Pain in the pelvis, abdomen or lower back.
- Pain during sex (intercourse).
- Uterine tissue that falls through the opening of the vagina.
- Frequent bladder infections.
- Unusual or excessive discharge from the vagina.
- Urination problems, including involuntary loss of urine (incontinence), the need to urinate frequently (urinary frequency) or the sudden urge to urinate (urinary urgency).
Symptoms can get worse when you stand or walk for long periods of time. In these positions, gravity places extra pressure on the pelvic muscles.