US scientists have discovered the cause of pelvic organ prolapse – a condition that affects many women over the age of 50 and can lead to stool and urinary incontinence .
Dr Ann Word, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at UT Southwestern Medical Centre, found that the condition is caused by a combination of a loss of elasticity and a breakdown of proteins in the vaginal wall. She revealed: “We found that the protein fibulin-5, which until now simply has been known to be important in generating elastic fibres, actually blocks the enzymes that degrade proteins that support the vaginal wall structure.
“The elastic fibres do play a role, but it’s also the enzymes that degrade the matrix that break down both collagen and elastin over time.” Dr Word’s findings, which are published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, may pave the way for the development of new therapies that target these enzymes and help to tackle the problem. Figures suggest that about half of women who have had children are affected by pelvic organ prolapse, in which the womb, bladder or vagina protrude from the body.