What is pelvic organ prolapse?

J M. Gresham, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when the muscles that hold the pelvic organs (bladder, urethra, uterus, vagina, small bowel and rectum) get weak or stretched. This causes one or more of those organs to drop in the body.

Some women will have pelvic organ prolapse and not notice it. For others it can be painful.
Rafael J. Perez, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when the supporting structures of the pelvic region become weakened and relaxed, allowing one or more of the pelvic organs -- the bladder, uterus, vagina, small bowel and rectum -- to drop and press into the vaginal wall.

Although pelvic organ prolapse is not a lethal condition -- in other words, you will not die sooner if you have the condition -- it does affect quality of life for many women. It can be pervasive and distressing.

Women with mild prolapse discovered during a routine pelvic exam may have no symptoms. But others can experience a range of symptoms, depending on which organ is drooping. The symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse may include:
  • Pelvic pressure and pain, leg fatigue and lower back pain
  • Urinary problems, such as urinary incontinence or difficulty in starting to urinate
  • Bowel problems, such as fecal incontinence or trapped stool, which can cause pain and constipation
  • Painful intercourse
A weakness of pelvic floor support causes pelvic prolapse. In this video urologist Michael Safir, MD, of West Hills Hospital, explains how this type of prolapse is caused in women.
Nathan L. Guerette, MD
Pelvic organ prolapse is the loss of support in the pelvis. In this video, Nathan Guerette, MD, a urogynecologist at Chippenham & Johnston-Willis Hospitals, talks about which organs can be affected, including the bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum.
Pelvic organ prolapse is when the uterus, bladder or the rectum fall through the vaginal opening, says Victor Grigoriev, MD, a urologist at MountainView Hospital. In this video, he says that one, two or all three organs could be involved.
Lisa Rogo-Gupta
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Pelvic organ prolapse (or prolapse or pelvic prolapse) is when the pelvic organs are no longer held in place by the pelvic floor muscles. This usually happens after years of activity, childbirth, and menopause. The organs begin to fall (or "prolapse") into the vagina.
UCLA Health
In pelvic organ prolapse, there is a weakening of the support structures of the vagina. Organs that are supported by the vaginal structures -- such as the bladder or uterus -- then "fall" or protrude into the vaginal canal. (If it's the bladder, this is called a cystocele or anterior vaginal prolapse. If it's the uterus, this is called uterine prolapse.) The protruding organ is covered by vaginal tissue, so doctors can see a bulge but not the organ.

Women can have a combination of several organs being prolapsed, and the symptoms depend on the organ that is prolapsed and the degree of prolapse.
Pelvic organ prolapse or vaginal prolapse occurs in women when the muscles and tissues that hold the pelvic organs in place begin to weaken. Subsequently, the uterus, bladder and rectum may press against the vaginal walls, causing them to protrude into the vagina. Treatment options depend on the type and degree of prolapse and include nonsurgical and surgical therapies. Some women have prolapse that does not cause them any symptoms and may not require treatment.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Celeste Robb-Nicholson
Internal Medicine
As many as one-third of women at midlife have some kind of pelvic organ prolapse -- a condition in which uterine, bladder, urethral, or rectal tissue protrudes into the vagina. It is one of the most common causes of incontinence.

The risk of pelvic organ prolapse increases with age, and it's more common in women who've given birth vaginally. Other contributing factors may include family history, excess weight, weak connective tissue, chronic constipation, and an occupation that requires heavy lifting.
Jill Rabin
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)

Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) may cause the vagina, uterus, urethra, small intestine, and rectum to drop below their normal position, possibly causing stress incontinence. The prolapsed organs are covered with vaginal skin, so they just look like big bulges in any of the five areas mentioned below. If you have POP, you may feel as though you are “sitting on an egg.”

There are five main areas/types of prolapse, and you may have one or a combination of them:

• Cystocele - The bladder drops down into the vagina, resulting in
  incomplete emptying of the bladder and a possible urinary tract
  infection. A cystocele may become worse with time.

• Cystourethrocele - The lower part of the urethra drops down into the
  vagina. This is also usually associated with a cystocoele.

• Uterine prolapse - The uterus and cervix drop down into the vagina,
  resulting in urinary urgency and frequency. If you have had a
  hysterectomy, your vagina may prolapse, since it is located in the mid
  compartment of your pelvic area above the (now removed) uterus.

• Enterocele - The small intestine drops from the vagina.

• Retrocele - The rectum protrudes into the vagina, resulting in
  incomplete rectal emptying.

There are four different grades of pelvic organ prolapse, depending upon its severity:

Grade 1: The sagging organ bulges toward the opening of the vagina.

Grade 2: The sagging organ is halfway down the vaginal canal.

Grade 3: The sagging organ is at the opening of the vagina.

Grade 4: The sagging organ drops out of the vagina.

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Kevin W. Windom, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)

Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is the condition in which any organs in the pelvis/vagina are "falling". When a patient has bladder prolapse, uterine, or vaginal prolapse, or rectal prolapse it can be considered POP. The downward descent of the pelvic or vaginal organs can cause a significant amount of problems with pelvic pressure, pelvic pain, problems with bladder or bowel emptying, pain with intercourse, and a noted bulging or protrusion of the organs into the vagina. The most common cause of pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is child birth. The delivery of a baby through the vagina can cause tearing of the connective tissue surrounding the pelvic organs which would subsequently cause a hernia of the bladder, the bowels, or the rectum into the vagina. These hernias and/or tears in the connective tissue is what causes pelvic organ prolapse. Other causes of pelvic organ prolapse (POP) are obesity, chronic straining, weak connective tissue disorders, smoking, or some types of vaginal or gynecologic surgeries. A hysterectomy can increase a patient's risk of pelvic organ prolapse (POP) because the connective tissue is disrupted at the apex of the vagina and if not properly repaired or reapproximated then there can be a weakness of the apex of the vagina causing future pelvic organ prolapse (POP).

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nually and take good care of your reproductive health. Health practices like having an annual pap smear and practicing safe sex can reduce your risk of many reproductive health problems. If you experience uncomfortable symptoms in your pelvic region including pain, itching, or unusual discharge, call your doctor. While some itching or discharge can be normal, these symptoms can sometimes be indicative of problems that need medical treatment.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.