Vaginal Pessaries

Treatment Overview

A vaginal pessary is a removable device placed into the vagina. It is designed to support areas of pelvic organ prolapse.

There are a variety of pessaries available, made of rubber, plastic, or silicone-based material. Among common types of pessaries are the inflatable, the doughnut, and the Gellhorn.

Your doctor will fit your pessary to hold the pelvic organs in position without causing discomfort. Pessaries come in different sizes and should be fitted carefully. See a picture of how a pessary should fit.

Pessaries can be used successfully to treat other gynecologic conditions, such as a uterus that is in the wrong position.

What To Expect After Treatment

Your pessary will be fitted at your doctor's office. You may need to experiment with different kinds of pessaries to find one that feels right for you. Your doctor will teach you how to remove, clean, and reinsert the pessary on a regular schedule. The cleaning schedule is determined by the type of pelvic organ prolapse and the specific brand of pessary. If it is hard for you to remove and replace your pessary, you can have it done regularly at your doctor's office.

Why It Is Done

Pessaries are used as a nonsurgical approach to the treatment of pelvic organ prolapse. They are frequently used to treat uterine prolapse in young women during pregnancy. In this instance, the pessary holds the uterus in the correct position before it enlarges and becomes trapped in the vaginal canal.

Pessaries are also used when symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse are mild or when childbearing is not complete. They can be used in women who have other serious chronic health problems, such as heart or lung disease, that make a surgical procedure more dangerous.

Pessaries are sometimes used to see what the effect of surgery for pelvic organ prolapse will be on urinary symptoms. This is called a "pessary test." If you have a problem with incontinence with a pessary inserted, a separate surgery to fix the incontinence problem may be done at the same time as a prolapse surgery.

How Well It Works

Pessaries do not cure pelvic organ prolapse but help manage and slow the progression of prolapse. They add support to the vagina and increase tightness of the tissues and muscles of the pelvis. Symptoms improve in many women who use a pessary. And for some women, symptoms go away.1

Risks

Possible complications from wearing a pessary include:

  • Open sores in the vaginal wall.
  • Bleeding.
  • Wearing away of the vaginal wall. In severe cases, an opening (fistula) can form between the vagina and the rectum.
  • Bulging of the rectum against the vaginal wall (rectocele formation).

Complications can be minimized by having a pessary that fits correctly and that does not put too much pressure on the wall of the vagina. Your pessary should be checked frequently by your doctor until both of you are satisfied with the fit.

In post menopausal women, estrogen (cream, ring, or tablets) is sometimes used with a pessary to help with irritation caused by the pessary.

Follow your doctor's instructions for cleaning your pessary. Regular cleaning reduces the risk of complications. The cleaning schedule is determined by the type of pelvic organ prolapse and the specific brand of pessary.

What To Think About

Pessaries often are an effective tool for managing pelvic organ prolapse without surgery. They may be the best choice if you are a young woman who has not finished having children, if you have been told that surgery would be risky for you, or if you do not wish to have surgery for other reasons.

A pessary may not be a good choice after having a hysterectomy. This is because the walls of the vagina are no longer held in place by the uterus and cervix. Women with severe prolapse following a hysterectomy may have difficulty keeping the pessary in place.

Many women can have sexual intercourse with their pessary in place. But you cannot insert a diaphragm (a round rubber device used as a barrier method of birth control) while wearing a pessary. If you have not reached menopause, you may want to discuss birth control with your doctor.

Complete the special treatment information form (PDF)special treatment information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this treatment.

References

Citations

  1. Gleason JL, et al. (2012). Pelvic organ prolapse. In JS Berek, ed., Berek and Novak's Gynecology, 15th ed., pp. 906–939. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

Other Works Consulted

  • Liang CC, et al. (2004). Pessary test to predict postoperative urinary incontinence in women undergoing hysterectomy for prolapse. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 104(4): 795–800.
  • Weber AM, Richter HE (2005). Pelvic organ prolapse. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 106(3): 615–634.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Femi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as of March 12, 2014

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