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Conservative management of pelvic organ prolapse in women

Hagen S, Stark D
Published Online: 
7 December 2011

Pelvic organs, such as the uterus, cervix, bladder or bowel, may protrude into the vagina because of weakness in the tissues that normally support them. The symptoms that they cause vary, depending on the type of prolapse. Conservative methods, such as pelvic floor muscle training (exercises to improve the pelvic floor muscles) or lifestyle changes (for example, avoiding lifting or losing weight), are commonly recommended for prolapse. The review looked for randomised trials of conservative methods, either to prevent or treat prolapse, from which to judge their effects.

Six trials were included. Four trials compared pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT) with no intervention, and two trials compared pelvic floor muscle training plus surgery to surgery alone. PFMT compared to no intervention was found in individual trials to improve prolapse symptoms, but data could not be combined. Data on prolapse severity was combined from two trials and results indicated that PFMT increases the chance of improvement in prolapse stage by 17% compared to no treatment. Pelvic floor muscle function appeared to be improved in women who received PFMT in the two trials which measured this. Bladder symptoms were improved with PFMT in two out of three trials measuring this; bowel symptoms were measured in one trial, and an improvement with PFMT was found.

The two trials which looked at the benefit of PFMT in addition to surgery, were small but of good quality. Findings were contradictory: women benefited from PFMT, in terms of urinary symptoms and pelvic floor muscle strength, in one trial but not the other.

The evidence from the trials suggests there is some benefit from conservative treatment of prolapse, specifically for PFMT as compared to no intervention. More randomised controlled trials are still needed to look at different regimens of PFMT, the cost in relation to benefit, and the long-term effects. The combination of PFMT and surgery requires to be evaluated in a large randomised trial. There is a dearth of trials addressing lifestyle changes as a treatment for prolapse, and trials aimed at prevention of prolapse. Trials of one type of conservative intervention versus another, and combinations of conservative interventions, are also lacking.

This record should be cited as: 
Hagen S, Stark D. Conservative prevention and management of pelvic organ prolapse in women. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD003882. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003882.pub4
Assessed as up to date: 
6 May 2010