Objective: To understand the clinical significance of early pelvic organ prolapse in older women, we studied associations between vaginal descensus and pelvic floor symptoms.
Methods: In this cross-sectional study, 270 women enrolled at one site of the Women's Health Initiative clinical trial completed a questionnaire modified from the Pelvic Floor Distress Inventory on pelvic floor symptoms and underwent a Pelvic Organ Prolapse Quantification (POP-Q) examination. We tested associations between symptoms (individual and grouped) with anterior, posterior, uterine, and maximum vaginal descensus.
Results: Mean age was 68 years. Ninety-six percent had POP-Q stages I or II. Only obstructive urinary symptoms and feeling a bulge were associated with vaginal descensus. Obstructive urinary symptom scores increased as anterior (P = .04), posterior (P < .01), and maximal (P = .01) vaginal descensus increased. Urinary incontinence or bowel symptoms were not associated with descensus of any vaginal compartment. ''See or feel a bulge,'' reported by 11 women (4%), was associated with descensus in all compartments (P < or = .04 for all) and with prolapse at or beyond the hymen (P < .001). This symptom was specific (100%), but not sensitive (16%) for prolapse, defined as descensus at or beyond the hymen.
Conclusion: Vaginal support defects in older women are associated with obstructive urinary symptoms and the symptom of seeing or feeling a bulge. However, symptoms are not useful in discriminating between women with and without milder vaginal wall descensus. Based on these results, we suggest that other etiologies for bothersome bladder or bowel complaints be considered before performing surgery for early pelvic organ prolapse.