Surgical management of pelvic organ prolapse in women

Pelvic organs, such as the uterus, bladder or bowel, may protrude into the vagina due to weakness in the tissues that normally support them. The commonest symptom experienced by women with prolapse is the sensation or feeling, or seeing, a vaginal bulge. Commonly these women have abnormalities in bladder, bowel and sexual function that may or may not be related to the prolapse. The surgical repair performed depends on the type of prolapse seen on examination and on the associated symptoms. Women should be aware that the principle aim of surgery is to relieve the vaginal bulge. Women who have stress urinary incontinence in addition to their prolapse commonly have that corrected at the same surgery. Pelvic organ prolapse surgery is usually effective in controlling the principle symptoms of prolapse (awareness of vaginal bulge). The impact of pelvic organ prolapse surgery on specific bowel, bladder and sexual functions can be predicted however individual women should be aware that occasionally the intervention may make symptoms worse or result in new symptoms, such as leakage of urine or problems with sexual intercourse.

The review found 56 trials including 5954 women with a variety of types of prolapse. The trials showed that abdominal sacral colpopexy, 'abdominal route surgery', may be better than vaginal sacrospinous colpopexy or 'vaginal route surgery' for prolapse of the uterus or vaginal apex after hysterectomy. Limited evidence suggests that vaginal surgery may be better than surgery performed through the anus for posterior vaginal prolapse (rectocele). The use of grafts (biological or synthetic) reduces the risk of prolapse symptoms and recurrent anterior vaginal prolapse on examination when compared to native tissue repairs (colporrhaphy). However, the advantages of a permanent polypropylene mesh must be weighed against disadvantages including longer operating time, greater blood loss, prolapse in other areas of the vagina, new onset urinary stress incontinence, and the mesh becoming exposed in the vagina in 11% of women. In general, there is a lack of evidence to support transvaginal mesh operations used in apical or posterior compartment surgery.

Continence surgery performed at the time of prolapse surgery is effective in reducing the risk of urinary stress incontinence after the prolapse surgery. Overall, however, there was not enough evidence on most types of common prolapse surgery nor about the use of mesh or grafts in vaginal prolapse surgery.

Authors' conclusions: 

Sacral colpopexy has superior outcomes to a variety of vaginal procedures including sacrospinous colpopexy, uterosacral colpopexy and transvaginal mesh. These benefits must be balanced against a longer operating time, longer time to return to activities of daily living, and increased cost of the abdominal approach.

The use of mesh or graft inlays at the time of anterior vaginal wall repair reduces the risk of recurrent anterior wall prolapse on examination. Anterior vaginal polypropylene mesh also reduces awareness of prolapse, however these benefits must be weighted against increased operating time, blood loss, rate of apical or posterior compartment prolapse, de novo stress urinary incontinence, and reoperation rate for mesh exposures associated with the use of polypropylene mesh.

Posterior vaginal wall repair may be better than transanal repair in the management of rectocele in terms of recurrence of prolapse. The evidence is not supportive of any grafts at the time of posterior vaginal repair. Adequately powered randomised, controlled clinical trials with blinding of assessors are urgently needed on a wide variety of issues, and they particularly need to include women's perceptions of prolapse symptoms. Following the withdrawal of some commercial transvaginal mesh kits from the market, the generalisability of the findings, especially relating to anterior compartment transvaginal mesh, should be interpreted with caution.

Read the full abstract...

Pelvic organ prolapse may occur in up to 50% of parous women. A variety of urinary, bowel and sexual symptoms may be associated with the prolapse.


To determine the effects of the many different surgeries used in the management of pelvic organ prolapse.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Incontinence Group Specialised Register, which contains trials identified from the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, MEDLINE In Process and handsearching of journals and conference proceedings, healthcare-related bibliographic databases, handsearched conference proceedings (searched 20 August 2012), and reference lists of relevant articles. We also contacted researchers in the field.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials that included surgical operations for pelvic organ prolapse.

Data collection and analysis: 

Trials were assessed and data extracted independently by two review authors. Six investigators were contacted for additional information with five responding.

Main results: 

Fifty-six randomised controlled trials were identified evaluating 5954 women. For upper vaginal prolapse (uterine or vault) abdominal sacral colpopexy was associated with a lower rate of recurrent vault prolapse on examination and painful intercourse than with vaginal sacrospinous colpopexy. These benefits must be balanced against a longer operating time, longer time to return to activities of daily living and increased cost of the abdominal approach. In single studies the sacral colpopexy had a higher success rate on examination and lower reoperation rate than high vaginal uterosacral suspension and transvaginal polypropylene mesh.

Twenty-one trials compared a variety of surgical procedures for anterior compartment prolapse (cystocele). Ten compared native tissue repair with graft (absorbable and permanent mesh, biological grafts) repair for anterior compartment prolapse. Native tissue anterior repair was associated with more recurrent anterior compartment prolapse than when supplemented with a polyglactin (absorbable) mesh inlay (RR 1.39, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.90) or porcine dermis mesh inlay (RR 2.08, 95% CI 1.08 to 4.01), however there was no difference in post-operative awareness of prolapse after absorbable mesh (RR 0.96, 95% CI 0.33 to 2.81) or a biological graft (RR 1.21, 95% CI 0.64 to 2.30). Data on morbidity and other clinical outcomes were lacking. Standard anterior repair was associated with more anterior compartment prolapse on examination than for any polypropylene (permanent) mesh repair (RR 3.15, 95% CI 2.50 to 3.96). Awareness of prolapse was also higher after the anterior repair as compared to polypropylene mesh repair (28% versus 18%, RR 1.57, 95% CI 1.18 to 2.07). However, the reoperation rate for prolapse was similar at 14/459 (3%) after the native tissue repair compared to 6/470 (1.3%) (RR 2.18, 95% CI 0.93 to 5.10) after the anterior polypropylene mesh repair and no differences in quality of life data or de novo dyspareunia were identified. Blood loss (MD 64 ml, 95% CI 48 to 81), operating time (MD 19 min, 95% CI 16 to 21), recurrences in apical or posterior compartment (RR 1.9, 95% CI 1.0 to 3.4) and de novo stress urinary incontinence (RR 1.8, 95% CI 1.0 to 3.1) were significantly higher with transobturator meshes than for native tissue anterior repair. Mesh erosions were reported in 11.4% (64/563), with surgical interventions being performed in 6.8% (32/470).

Data from three trials compared native tissue repairs with a variety of total, anterior, or posterior polypropylene kit meshes for vaginal prolapse in multiple compartments. While no difference in awareness of prolapse was able to be identified between the groups (RR 1.3, 95% CI 0.6 to 1.7) the recurrence rate on examination was higher in the native tissue repair group compared to the transvaginal polypropylene mesh group (RR 2.0, 95% CI 1.3 to 3.1). The mesh erosion rate was 35/194 (18%), and 18/194 (9%) underwent surgical correction for mesh erosion. The reoperation rate after transvaginal polypropylene mesh repair of 22/194 (11%) was higher than after the native tissue repair (7/189, 3.7%) (RR 3.1, 95% CI 1.3 to 7.3).

Data from three trials compared posterior vaginal repair and transanal repair for the treatment of posterior compartment prolapse (rectocele). The posterior vaginal repair had fewer recurrent prolapse symptoms (RR 0.4, 95% CI 0.2 to 1.0) and lower recurrence on examination (RR 0.2, 95% CI 0.1 to 0.6) and on defecography (MD -1.2 cm, 95% CI -2.0 to -0.3).

Sixteen trials included significant data on bladder outcomes following a variety of prolapse surgeries. Women undergoing prolapse surgery may have benefited from having continence surgery performed concomitantly, especially if they had stress urinary incontinence (RR 7.4, 95% CI 4.0 to 14) or if they were continent and had occult stress urinary incontinence demonstrated pre-operatively (RR 3.5, 95% CI 1.9 to 6.6). Following prolapse surgery, 12% of women developed de novo symptoms of bladder overactivity and 9% de novo voiding dysfunction.