A woman’s body is capable of majestic things. It can grow life inside of it and endure excruciating pain to push that baby into the world. But the pelvic floor that holds all those reproductive organs, as well as bladder, bowels, and digestive parts, is vulnerable to collapse. It bears the weight of a lot of the body on a daily basis and undergoes extreme stress during childbirth.
When the muscles aren’t able to hold everything together, you may end up with a vaginal hernia. It’s estimated that one-third of women in the United States have some sort of pelvic area prolapse. Of those, around 25% can feel pain or discomfort from the condition. Approximately 11% will require surgery to correct the problem. It’s a common issue that women, and those who love them, should be educated about.
What is a Vaginal Hernia?
The textbook definition of a hernia is an organ that becomes displaced from its functional or optimal location.
It can happen to many organs, bones, and body parts including discs in the spine, intestines, stomach, esophagus, and even the female reproductive organs.
What is a vaginal hernia compared to others?
A vaginal hernia can go by multiple names including vaginal prolapse, uterine prolapse, or bowel prolapse. The defining characteristics are when the bladder, uterus, rectum, or bowel collapse and protrude into the vaginal canal.
A ruptured hernia is when the organ bursts or becomes mangled as it disconnects from pelvic muscles.
Symptoms of Vaginal Prolapse
How does one even know they are experiencing vaginal prolapse? A few symptoms can cue you into the idea that it is time to see a specialist.
- A new or strange lump in the vagina or lower abdomen
- Pressure or discomfort
- Difficulty emptying the bladder
- Frequent urination or incontinence
- Pain during sex
- Pelvic heaviness
- Vaginal bleeding (not menstrual related)
Causes of Vaginal Hernia
Organs in the lower half of the women’s torso are held in place by pelvic muscles. When those muscles become weakened, it can lead to prolapse. A few conditions or events can cause this, including:
- Heavy lifting (repeatedly)
- Straining to make bowel movements (spurred by chronic constipation or IBS)
- A chronic cough (caused bronchitis, COPD, emphysema, lung cancer, etc.)
- Prior hysterectomy
You are at greater risk the older you are. A history of vaginal prolapse in your family exponentially increases the chances you will suffer a form of prolapse as well.
Vaginal Hernia Repair & Treatment
Occasionally, if the condition isn’t painful, doctors may let the patient continue life as normal until it becomes problematic. Otherwise, surgery is necessary for vaginal hernia repair.
During surgery, the surgeon will attach the top of the vagina to the lower abdomen wall, the pelvis ligaments, or the lower back. If the uterus is dropping, a hysterectomy may be recommended for women without plans for future children. Sometimes removal of the uterus or other organs is unavoidable because the prolapse has caused permanent damage.
The incision is made either through the abdomen or the vaginal canal. Organs are reattached to the body either with existing organic tissue or by an artificial means like vaginal mesh. Mesh is losing favor among physicians, however, because of emerging health complications in women post-surgery. In many cases, the surgical mesh shrank and became encased in scar tissue causing women significant pain and chronic inflammation. The rejection of the foreign material was so severe that in about 20 to 30 percent of cases, women developed Lupus-like symptoms of autoimmune problems like runny nose, rashes, and joint pain.
The prevalence of vaginal mesh issues has spawned over 100,000 lawsuits (and counting) against the manufacturers of the mesh. Settlements in the multi-millions have been awarded to the plaintiffs.
Recovery Time After Surgery
Repairing prolapsed reproductive and digestive organs is major surgery. Patients can expect full recovery time after surgery to be 4 to 6 weeks. Experts recommend taking off 2 to 4 weeks from work. Incisions through the abdomen take longer to heal than through the vaginal canal because of the size of cut and muscles compromised.
Opioid pain pills will likely be necessary for approximately one week after the surgery date. After that, pain can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol or Advil. Following certain protocol will make your recovery go smoother like:
- Limit strenuous activity. Running, jogging, biking, are all prohibited in the first few weeks.
- No heavy lifting.
- Get plenty of rest (including stopping when you are tired).
- Walk every day. At first, it will be difficult and you won’t be able to go far, but you need to move to rebuild the muscles in the abdomen and pelvis. Add a few minutes more each day.
- No vaginal or anal sexual intercourse for up to six weeks.
After the initial 6 weeks, weight lifting activities can be reintroduced slowly. The important thing is to pay attention to the body. If it feels weak or something is painful, stop that activity. Forcing yourself through the pain could cause tearing and send you back to the operating room.
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