What Are the Causes & Symptoms of a Pelvic Organ Prolapse?

A pelvic organ prolapse (POP) occurs when the muscular pelvic floor weakens to the extent that it can no longer support the pelvic organs. It allows the pelvic organs to move away from their usual positions and bulge (prolapse) sometimes painfully into the vagina or rectum. Some prolapses can begin so minor, that they are only recognised and diagnosed through a routine examination such as a smear test. However, they can become so severe that they permanently protrude from the body and lead to incontinence, bleeding and severe pain. It is therefore essential to maintain strength in your pelvic floor, through daily pelvic floor exercises, and be aware of any changes in your body that may suggest an early stage of a prolapse forming.

As with most medical problems, it’s important not to put off treatment. Allowing your prolapse to go untreated for a long period of time leads to weakened pelvic muscles and damage to associated nerves - increasing the risk of them reoccurring. So avoid unnecessary delays and speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Common Causes of a Pelvic Organ Prolapse

A vaginal prolapse happens as a consequence of a weakened pelvic floor. The main cause of this weakening in women is ageing and vaginal childbirth, which are largely unavoidable. The latter has a dramatic effect on the pelvic floor muscles and leads to around 1 in 3 women suffering from some sort of pelvic organ prolapse. Other common causes of the pelvic floor weakening include:

  • ageing
  • pregnancy and vaginal childbirth
  • menopause - due to the reduction of the female hormone oestrogen
  • body weight - over BMI 30
  • genetics
  • constipation and associated straining
  • persistent coughing
  • regular and improper heavy lifting
  • strenuous activity
  • previous pelvic surgeries, including most notably undergoing a hysterectomy

For more in depth information about the causes of each type of pelvic organ prolapse, visit our Types of Prolapse page.

All pelvic organ prolapses are treatable, so if you’re reading this because you think you may have one, don’t worry. We’re here to put your mind at rest, but it’s crucial not to feel embarrassed or to ignore it. If it’s worrying you, or you think you may be in a later stage of prolapse, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Common Symptoms Associated With a Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Some women experience little or even no complaints about their prolapse, only becoming aware of it at a routine GP appointment such as a smear test. However, some women experience inconvenient symptoms and lots of discomfort. All of the symptoms below can be felt to varying degrees. You may feel a few, many or all of the following symptoms, depending on the organ that has prolapsed:

  • a feeling of pressure inside the vagina, especially when sitting down
  • a dragging feeling inside the vagina, and/or feeling that something is going to fall out
  • a feeling like you’re sitting on a ball
  • vaginal bleeding, outside of menstruation
  • a gaping vagina - so much so that a tampon cannot stay in place
  • noticeable tissue protruding from the vagina, that may also be painful and bleed
  • discomfort or pain during sex
  • pelvic or lower back pain
  • pain that reduces when you lay down and increases when you stand for a long time
  • persistent or frequent urinary tract infections (cystitis)
  • urinary stress incontinence – the inability to hold in urine when you cough, sneeze, laugh, exercise or lift heavy objects
  • a frequent need to urinate
  • difficulty having a bowel movement – constipation and a feeling of not having fully emptied the bowel

As there are a large number of prolapse conditions, all within close proximity in the pelvis, it can be difficult to know which symptoms point to which condition. Visiting your doctor for a diagnosis is important, and together you can develop a course of treatment that is best for you.

For more in depth information about the causes of each type of pelvic organ prolapse, visit our Types of Prolapse page.

Learn More About the Causes & Symptoms of Pelvic Organ Prolapse

To learn more about the causes and symptoms of the common types of pelvic organ prolapses, browse the pages below: