Recently, the term “Kegel exercises” has been getting a lot of attention from all sorts of media outlets: fitness bloggers, celebrities, and even self-help magazines.
These pelvic floor exercises are widely known for enhancing sexual pleasure and increasing a woman’s ability to orgasm. But one important piece of the conversation that a lot of people seem to be missing is that Kegel exercises are critical for helping to prevent pelvic organ prolapse (POP), the dropping of the pelvic organs caused by the loss of normal support of the vagina.
POP occurs when there is weakness or damage to the normal support of the pelvic floor, which is responsible for holding up all of the pelvic organs, including the vagina, cervix, uterus, bladder, urethra, intestines and rectum. When the muscles that make up the pelvic floor are stretched out or are torn, there is a possibility for the pelvic organs to fall downward and out of place. In some severe cases, women have reported feeling or seeing tissue from a prolapsing cervix and uterus coming out of the opening of their vagina.
According to Dr. May Wakamatsu, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and division director of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, pelvic organ prolapse is most often the result of carrying and vaginally delivering children.
“The baby’s head going through the vaginal canal stretches out the connective tissues,” Dr. Wakamatsu said.
Once the organs have shifted, an uncomfortable bulge may develop at the opening of the vagina.
“When the prolapse pulls the bladder downward, it bends the ureter (the tube through which urine exits the body),” Dr. Wakamatsu said. “As a result, you might have trouble urinating fully.”
Women with pelvic organ prolapse often suffer from vaginal dryness or irritation, pain during intercourse and the inability to comfortably wear a tampon. According to the organization Voice for Pelvic Floor Disorders (PFD), some women will experience difficulty with bowel movements, bleeding from skin that comes into contact with menstrual products or underwear, frequent urinary tract infections, lower back discomfort and difficulty continuing the stream of urination.
Not all prolapse requires severe treatments, so most people are able to manage without ever committing to having surgery. But in severe cases, some women may need to have pelvic reconstructive surgery performed. Pelvic reconstruction surgery can occur through an incision in the vagina, an incision made through the abdominal wall, or a series of small incisions made in the abdomen, through which the surgeon will place a laparoscope and other necessary instruments.
Pelvic organ prolapse is definitely not a fun topic to talk about for most women but it’s important to keep conversations open so that a woman suffering from POP can find the support that she need.