Board Exam Corner

Pelvic organ prolapse: Effective treatments


Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment of a six-part series that will review key concepts and articles that ob.gyns. can use to prepare for the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology Maintenance of Certification examination. The series is adapted from Ob/Gyn Board Master (, an online board review course created by Erudyte. This month’s edition of the Board Corner focuses on pelvic organ prolapse.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ “Practice Bulletins” are important practice management guidelines for ob.gyn. clinicians. The Practice Bulletins are rich sources of material that is often tested on board exams. Earlier this year, ACOG released a revised Practice Bulletin (#176) updating its advice on the diagnosis and management of pelvic organ prolapse (POP).1 It is a well-written document summarizing most of the landmark articles published in the field of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery. We recommend you read this bulletin and review this topic carefully.

Let’s begin with a possible medical board question: Which of the following procedures is the most effective for a sexually-active patient with advanced prolapse?

A. Sacrospinous ligament suspension (SSLS)

B. Uterosacral ligament suspension (USLS)

C. Sacrocolpopexy (SCP)

D. Colpocleisis

E. Hysteropexy

Dr. Sam Siddighi

Dr. Sam Siddighi

The correct answer is C.

A randomized trial comparing SSLS and USLS found the two apical procedures with native tissue repair are equally effective with comparable functional and adverse outcomes (answers A and B are incorrect). However, randomized trials comparing SCP to SSLS show that SCP with synthetic mesh has the lowest recurrence rate for prolapse. Colpocleisis is done for patients who are not sexually active (answer D is incorrect). Hysteropexy is performed for patients who desire preservation of the uterus. There is less available evidence on safety and efficacy, compared with hysterectomy at the time of prolapse repair (answer E is incorrect)

Key points

The key points to remember are:

1. SCP is the most effective prolapse repair technique.

2. USLS and SSLS fixation are equally effective when compared with one another.

3. Colpocleisis is a highly successful procedure for POP in patients who are not sexually active.

Literature summary

The lifetime risk for undergoing surgery for POP or stress incontinence is 20%. POP is the descent of one or more aspects of the vagina or uterus, which allows nearby organs to herniate into the vagina. POP should only be treated if it is symptomatic and bothersome for the patient. The pessary is an alternative to surgical treatment of prolapse.

Proven risk factors for POP are increased parity, vaginal delivery, age, obesity, chronic constipation, and certain congenital anomalies. A history should be taken to elucidate symptoms of prolapse, such as bulge, pressure, sexual dysfunction, lower urinary tract dysfunction, or defecatory dysfunction. It is also important to find out how much the POP is affecting her quality of life. A physical exam is best performed with a split speculum, with bladder empty, while the patient performs a Valsalva maneuver. We recommend using the POP-Q system to grade the severity of prolapse. The tone of the pelvic floor muscle should also be evaluated (absent, weak, normal, or strong) during pelvic exam.

The minimum testing necessary for a patient with POP is urinalysis and a postvoid residual. A stress test with a full bladder should also be done with and without reduction of the prolapse. If you’re considering surgery and the patient has advanced prolapse and/or other complicating factors – such as obstructive symptoms or significant neurologic disorder – you should consider performing urodynamic testing as well.

Native tissue, suture-based reconstructive repairs of the vagina include apical procedures, such as SSLS and USLS, in addition to anterior colporrhaphy and posterior repair. At 2-year follow-up, SSLS and USLS along with anterior colporrhaphy and posterior repair are equally effective for treatment of prolapse with comparable functional and adverse outcomes. SCP is more effective than SSLS but the abdominal procedure (not laparoscopic) may be associated with more complications. Currently, there are no published randomized trials comparing minimally-invasive SCP to USLS, but one is underway (

Other procedures for POP include obliterative procedures such as colpocleisis, which is highly effective for patients who do not desire future vaginal intercourse and also has low morbidity. Preservation of the uterus by hysteropexy procedures (either transvaginal or transabdominal) are also options for women desiring to preserve their uterus, but these procedures have little safety and efficacy data. Regardless of the procedure performed, routine intraoperative cystoscopy should be done to assure ureteral patency and to rule out injury to the lower urinary tract.

Some type of prophylactic anti-incontinence procedure – retropubic or Burch – may be done at the time of vaginal prolapse repair or abdominal prolapse repair, respectively, in order to reduce the chance of postoperative stress urinary incontinence in a patient without symptoms of stress incontinence. The exception to this is in a patient who has an elevated postvoid residual or someone with a prior anti-incontinence procedure without symptoms of stress urinary incontinence.

Practice tips

Finally, here are some precautions and words of advice about the following POP procedures:

  • Neither synthetic nor biologic grafts should be used to augment posterior repairs as these do not improve outcomes.
  • Transvaginal repair of rectocele is superior to the transanal repair techniques.
  • Synthetic mesh augmentation of the anterior vaginal wall may improve anatomic outcomes, but this comes at a cost (more reoperations and higher rate of complications). Thus, surgeons performing these procedures should have specialized training and the patient should have a unique indication and must undergo proper consent as recommended by ACOG.

Dr. Siddighi is editor-in-chief of the Ob/Gyn Board Master and director of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery and director of grand rounds at Loma Linda University Health in California. Ob.Gyn. News and Ob/Gyn Board Master are owned by the same parent company, Frontline Medical Communications.


1. Obstet Gynecol. 2017 Apr;129(4):e56-e72.

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