Vaginal prolapse – clinical outcomes and patients’ perspectives : a study using quantitative and qualitative methods

Abstract: Background: Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is a relatively common condition. In Sweden, the overall estimated prevalence of POP in the female population is 31% and the prevalence of symptomatic prolapse is 8–15%. The prevalence of POP increases with age. The lifetime risk of undergoing pelvic floor surgery is estimated to 11%. The aim of this thesis was to investigate outcomes of vaginal hysterectomy for treatment of prolapse; to study outcomes of cystocele repair surgery and patient satisfaction related to different anaesthesia methods; to explore women’s experiences of vaginal prolapse; and to investigate what is known regarding POP prior to surgery and healthcare-seeking behaviour. Methods: In the Swedish National Quality Register for Gynaecological Surgery (Gynop-register), 941 women were identified who underwent vaginal hysterectomy for prolapse from 1997 to 2005 and 1,364 women were identified who underwent cystocele repair surgery from 2006 to 2009. In-depth interviews were performed with 14 women with vaginal prolapse. Interview data were analyzed with a qualitative content analysis. To investigate women’s knowledge about POP and healthcare-seeking behaviour, a questionnaire was developed, validated and distributed to women with planned surgery for POP. Women undergoing hysterectomy or incontinence surgery were used as reference groups. Results: Severe complications after vaginal hysterectomy occurred in 3% of cases. Sexual activity was improved after vaginal hysterectomy, the number of women reported to have intercourse increased by 20% (p = 0.006). Subjective symptoms of urinary incontinence and overactive bladder were resolved in 50% of the women. De novo stress incontinence was reported by 11% of the women. Use of local anaesthesia (LA) in reconstruction of cystocele showed advantage over other forms of anaesthesia. Length of hospital stay, duration of use of postoperative pain-killing drugs, and time to return to daily activity were shorter among women who underwent surgery with LA compared to other forms of anaesthesia. Patient satisfaction was not related to methods of anaesthesia. In an interview study, the process from recognition the symptoms to seeking healthcare was highlighted. Two categories, “obstacles” and “facilitators” to seeking health care, were identified. One of the obstacles was lack of information on POP in the public domain. The main facilitators were feeling sexually unattractive and impaired physical ability due to POP. Some findings from the interview study were further explored in the questionnaire study. One out of five women with vaginal prolapse did not know that the symptoms were related to prolapse before consulting their physician. Over 30% of the women in the incontinence group were embarrassed to talk about incontinence, and they were unaware that it could be treated. The most frequent description of vaginal prolapse was vaginal bulging. Women in the prolapse group had significantly less access to information through brochures and public media than women in the incontinence group (p < 0.001). Conclusion: Short-term follow-up after vaginal hysterectomy showed that sexual activity and urinary symptoms had improved. Cystocele surgery using LA showed no disadvantage compared to surgery using other anaesthesia methods. POP surgery can therefore be performed safely with LA. Information on prolapse should be easily accessible to improve the possibility for women of gaining knowledge and thereby overcoming obstacles to seeking medical advice. Healthcare professionals have a significant role to play in informing women about symptoms and available treatment options.