Fertility & Natural Family Planning

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From DrugWatch: Pelvic Organ Prolapse and Your Reproductive Health

Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP) and female reproductive health are intrinsically connected. POP affects approximately 50 percent of women between the ages of 50 and 79. It is most commonly related to pregnancy and childbirth, although it is typically not diagnosed until menopause — when lower levels of estrogen cause tissues to become thinner and weaker. Mild to moderate cases of POP can be managed using non-invasive treatments. However, moderate to severe cases of POP may require surgical intervention.

Women should have a clear understanding of available treatments for POP, so they can weigh the risks and benefits of each one. Making an informed decision regarding treatment can have lasting effects on a woman’s future reproductive health.

What is Pelvic Organ Prolapse?

Pelvic Organ Prolapse occurs when a woman’s pelvic tissues weaken, allowing the pelvic organs to drop down onto the pelvic floor. In its most severe form, organs can drop into the vaginal canal. While pregnancy and childbirth are the most common precursors to the condition, there are other factors that contribute to POP, such as smoking, obesity or previous pelvic injury. The good news is that POP can often be prevented, or corrected, by focusing on reproductive health. Examples of this include:

Living a healthy lifestyle: As obesity and smoking are linked to POP, healthy lifestyle choices can help to keep the pelvic tissues healthy and strong.

Daily exercise: Part of a healthy lifestyle includes regular exercise, but women can take specific steps in their exercise routine to promote reproductive health. Kegel exercises, Yoga and/or Pilates can strengthen muscles in the core and the pelvic floor. This is often enough to prevent POP symptoms from becoming worse.

Surgical Treatments for Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Surgical intervention is a common treatment, especially for women with moderate to severe cases of POP. Unfortunately, in an effort to restore a woman’s reproductive health, surgery can end up causing more lasting problems. An example of this is a product called transvaginal mesh, which is inserted through the vagina to support pelvic organs.

Transvaginal mesh has been a popular means of correcting POP for the last decade. However, approximately 10 percent of the time, transvaginal mesh used for prolapse repair has been linked to health complications — many of which are serious.

In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to health care professionals regarding the high number of complications associated with transvaginal mesh. In 2011, the FDA issued an update to its original warning stating that there were serious complications associated with transvaginal mesh and that complications were not rare.

Complications associated with transvaginal mesh include:

Erosion and/or protrusion of the mesh into surrounding tissues and/or organs
Organ perforation
Pain during sexual intercourse
Incontinence
A pulling or tugging sensation as shrinking/contracting mesh material pulls tissues with it

Mesh lawsuits were filed in complaint, due to these harmful side effects. The 2011 FDA warning also states that there are alternative surgical solutions to using transvaginal mesh. These options can be equally successful in treating POP and have fewer serious side effects. Women with POP should discuss the risks and benefits of each treatment presented to them by their doctor in order to protect their overall physical, and reproductive, health.

Elizabeth Carrollton writes about defective medical devices and dangerous drugs for Drugwatch.

*Disclousure: Please be aware that Drugwatch is a for profit entity, but I felt the content was relevant to women’s health.

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