Menopause is no picnic. It’s riddled with hot flashes, depression and vaginal dryness, among other symptoms.
But for some women, the symptoms don’t stop there. Some women experience uterine prolapse – a condition in which the uterus slips down into the vagina – and a weak bladder, also known as stress incontinence.
While menopause is inevitable, uterine prolapse and stress incontinence don’t have to be. Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce your chance of developing these conditions.
Uduak Andy, MD, urogynecologist and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Penn Medicine, offers these five ways you can fight uterine prolapse and urinary stress incontinence before they start.
Maintain a healthy weight
Your pelvic muscles, also called your pelvic floor, quite literally do a lot of heavy lifting. Think of them as a bowl of muscles that support a number of organs, including your uterus and bladder.
They don’t need any additional stress from excess body weight. Obese women have a 40 to 75 percent increased risk of pelvic organ prolapse, reports the American Urogynecologic Society.
“Obesity or any additional fat around your abdominal area is going to put more pressure on your pelvic floor,” Dr. Andy explains. “Maintaining a healthy weight is important to reduce strain on pelvic muscles.”
Chronic constipation is more of a problem than you’d think. Many women just deal with the discomfort, but addressing this issue can have a wider impact on your health. If you’re constipated too often, the constant pushing and straining to bring on a bowel movement can increase your risk of uterine prolapse.
“Increasing fiber in your diet can help,” Dr. Andy suggests. “Discuss ways to manage your constipation with your doctor.”
Avoid heavy lifting
When it comes to heavy lifting, less is better. When you lift something heavy, you engage the muscles in your abs. That also means you’re using your pelvic muscles.
“If you do a lot of work with heavy lifting, it puts pressure on your pelvic floor, which increases your risk of prolapse,” warns Dr. Andy.
Put your Kegels to work
There is a kind of lifting that is acceptable, however. It’s the lifting of your pelvic floor muscles by doing Kegel exercises. These exercises strengthen the muscles that support your bladder, uterus, and large intestine.
“Doctors should be talking to their patients about pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels,” says Dr. Andy.
While many know about Kegels, few people do the exercises correctly. Far too often, women are contracting their abdominal muscles, which is incorrect.
Dr. Andy offers a surefire way to help patients identify what muscles they should be working.
“Imagine you’re in an elevator and there are other people in there, and gas is about to come out. You don’t want the gas to come out, so you hold back. Those are the muscles you need to be contracting,” explains Dr. Andy.
“Very often women are contracting the wrong muscles. So they’re not really gaining the benefits,” she says.
Get started now
Although you may not be able to completely avoid uterine prolapse or incontinence, taking measures to prevent it now can’t hurt.
“We don’t have any good data on when it’s best to begin preventive measures for uterine prolapse and incontinence,” says Dr. Andy. “But you can never start too early.”