Some time ago I met a lovely lady called Angela through the acupuncturist we both see. Whereas I have the occasional acupuncture session for some minor aches and pains, Angela needs it to help ease the chronic symptoms, ongoing pain and discomfort.
Angela, aged 63, suffers from a rare form of Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP), a Sigmoidocele to be precise. POP is a condition in which one or more of the pelvic organs fall into the vaginal canal. There are different forms of POP depending on which organ is affected. The main causes of POP are vaginal childbirth and menopause, but there are several significant others. (Angela for example has not given birth). And everyday activities such as lifting children or running can make things a lot worse. It’s estimated that one in four women in the Western world suffer from some form of POP, this increases to one in two for women over 50.
POP is a debilitating condition which is a lot more common than you think. It can start simply by needing to wear a pad when exercising, and if you don’t nip it in the bud, you run the risk things becoming a lot worse. Angela has been suffering with debilitating symptoms such as chronic constipation, intermittent lower abdominal pain, nausea and acid reflux for years, but has only recently been correctly diagnosed. For a long time specialists treated her for IBS. She was prescribed a wide variety of laxatives, some of which caused very unpleasant side effects.
And in the process of (mis)diagnosis lies one of the main problems of POP. There are no medical specialists that deal with the entire pelvic region, each specialist deals with certain parts (gynaecologists, urologists, etc), which means that a diagnosis of POP is often missed. But the problem starts earlier down the medical line, at GP level. There is no clear pathway for GPs to follow when they’re presented with symptoms of POP, so they often prescribe alleviating medication (such as laxatives and pessaries) which don’t tackle the actual prolapse.
So how come there is this medical unclarity surrounding POP? One word: embarrassment. Because the symptoms of POP are so embarrassing to most women, many don’t talk about it at all and try to hide their symptoms as best as they can. This often means they have to give up playing sports but also everyday things like playing with their kids. Some women are housebound due to POP as they’re too afraid they might have an accident when they go out. There are many women out there who suffer in silence. Because medical professionals don’t come across POP as often as they should, symptoms go unrecognised, research isn’t being done and no medical progress is being made.
When Angela found out she was suffering with POP and didn’t get much medical support, she thought she could find out more about it via websites and support groups. Wrong, there isn’t much information online and there are no support groups for POP in the UK. It’s for that same reason again: embarrassment. Angela has found the courage and determination to take it upon herself to raise awareness around POP. As a former nurse she understands like no other the urgency and importance of her campaign.
Please read my NetDoctor article here on everything you need to know and do about POP.
Every woman must be aware of POP, please spread the word!