By Sherrie Palm, for Women's Health Foundation
I participate frequently in media interviews about pelvic organ prolapse (POP), taking advantage of every opportunity to discuss a health topic that has been kept behind closed doors for thousands of years and needs avenues for disclosure.
Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when the muscles and tissues supporting the pelvic organs weaken or loosen, allowing any of the pelvic organs (uterus, bladder or rectum) to drop out of place. The organs can then press into or even out of the vagina.
When an occasion presents itself to discuss POP in detail in a group format, what typically occurs is there will be a difference of opinion about POP statistics—they truly are all over the page. But what matters isn't so much statistics as your personal problems.
As a pelvic floor health advocate who guides women toward health care professionals for both surgical and nonsurgical treatment of POP, I encourage women to disclose symptoms and concerns that are often embarrassing to discuss. I feel strongly that we need to get past the discomfort zone and recognize that at its most basic level, pelvic organ prolapse is a health issue that is treatable rather than a condition that needs to be hidden away.
Pelvic organ prolapse is a common health issue too often viewed as "not that big of a deal" by some members of the medical community.
I'm here to tell you it is a big deal. Every day I communicate with women in one of the various stages of this multifaceted health condition. Every day I assure women that there are treatment options that can return their lives to balance. Every day I let women know they are not alone, that millions of other women are experiencing the same pain, pressure and frustration the symptoms of POP present.
Learn more aboutHow Running Can Contribute to Incontinence and Prolapse.
As a pelvic floor health advocate, I'd like to encourage health care professionals who view POP as "not that big of a deal" to truly listen to their patients.
And as a woman who has been surgically treated for POP and continues to do the right stuff to maintain pelvic floor ballast post-surgery, I am hopeful at some point that patients and health care professionals will be able to find the optimal balance of pelvic floor health care treatment. As of now, we have a long journey ahead of us.
Some health care professionals base their opinions on what they've learned in medical school and what they've read in textbooks. The problem with that is educators and books have not experienced pelvic organ prolapse.
It comes down to a classic common issue that pervades the health care industry: We simply want our health care providers to listen to us, to believe us, to treat us with the same respect we give them even if what we are disclosing to them flies in the face of what their education has taught them about this health condition. We need health providers to look beyond their tunnel vision.
The message is pretty simple: We ask that health care providers who treat pelvic organ prolapse believe us when we tell them we have pain, pelvic pressure and discomfort; that the loss of intimacy is frustrating; and that POP invades the normalcy of our lives in a big way.
The message to women is also pretty simple: Hold your heads high, disclose your symptoms in entirety, insist on your health care professional spending the time due you to discuss what your treatment options are. It is vital to remember that at their core, health care professionals are human and sometimes need to be reminded in a gentle way that they work for us.
Together we will create recognition of the realities of pelvic organ prolapse, books and medical schools notwithstanding. We know what we know—experience is an incredible educator.
Sherrie Palm is the founder, CEO and executive director of the Association for Pelvic Organ Prolapse Support, a nonprofit foundation for pelvic organ prolapse support. She is also author of Pelvic Organ Prolapse: The Silent Epidemic, and a key opinion leader on pelvic organ prolapse. As a women's pelvic floor health advocate, she devotes her time to establishing recognition of pelvic organ prolapse and providing support pathways for women in various stages of POP. For relaxation Sherrie enjoys spending time in the woods and meadows of northern Wisconsin, walking with her dogs and taking digital photos of nature. For more info about APOPS or Sherrie Palm, visit Pelvic Organ Support.