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What Is A Pessary For Urinary Incontinence

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How Do I Know If I Need Treatment

Urinary Incontinence with Dr. Ferzandi | Tufts Medical Center

For the overwhelming majority of patients with prolapse treatment is completely elective. That means you decide if the symptoms are bad enough to warrant treatment. However, for some patients, treatment is medically necessary because your prolapse causes a blockage to the kidneys or such a severe blockage to the bladder that you are not able to urinate at all.

What Is A Pessary

Pessaries are soft, removable devices inserted into the vagina that can support both urinary stress incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. The primary function of a pessary is to support or correct the position of the uterus or other organs after they are weakened by pregnancy, age, or other conditions. The earliest mention of pessaries was in Egyptian papyrus scrolls, and they have been made out of wood, bone, and metal throughout history. However today, pessaries are most often made of rubber and medical-grade silicone.

Indications For A Pessary

Symptoms of POP include:

  • A visible bulge
  • Defecatory dysfunction
  • Sexual dysfunction

Research has shown that pessaries are effective in eliminating symptoms of POP, preventing the progression of POP, maintaining control of SUI, improving QoL, improving patient’s body image, and improving bowel symptoms.

Pessaries can be used short-term or long-term. A physical therapist should collaborate and communicate often with the patient’s other medical providers involved in their urogynecological care.

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What Is A Pessary And Do I Need One

If you have incontinence, or a pelvic organ prolapse, youve likely heard the term pessary tossed around at some point. Pelvic organ prolapse is a condition in which your pelvic floor becomes weak or compromised sometimes due to age, sometimes due to trauma , causing one or more of your pelvic organs to collapse into the vagina. Pelvic organ prolapse can be mild, or severe, and symptoms can vary greatly depending on the severity. Some women may not even realize they have a prolapse until later in life. Symptoms can include pressure or a feeling of heaviness in the vagina, incontinence, or even pain.

While some women can see big improvements in their condition with physical therapy, the condition cannot truly be fixed without surgery. But, it is possible to manage pelvic organ prolapse by using a pessary.

A pessary is a medical device, typically made out of silicone that is placed in the vagina and is used to support the pelvic floor, and the bladder, uterus and rectum. Pessaries are not a one-size-fits all type of device. Everyone is different so your doctor will usually fit you for one that works for you. This may take a few tries, so dont get discouraged if the first one you try doesnt feel quite right. Just be open with your doctor and work with them until you get the right fit.

Pessary Use For Stress Urinary Incontinence In Pregnancy

Pelvic Floor Disorders  Contipi
The safety and scientific validity of this study is the responsibility of the study sponsor and investigators. Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government.Know the risks and potential benefits of clinical studies and talk to your health care provider before participating. Read our disclaimer for details.
First Posted : October 19, 2020Last Update Posted : June 6, 2022
  • Study Details
Condition or disease
Stress Urinary IncontinencePregnancy Related Device: Cooper Surgical Ring Pessary with Incontinence Knob Not Applicable

Specific Aims To determine if an incontinence pessary will improve condition-specific quality of life for women with stress urinary incontinence in the third trimester of pregnancy and collect pilot data to inform sample size and feasibility for a larger randomized controlled trial.


Design: Pilot randomized controlled trial

Sample Size: The effect size of a pessary for the treatment of SUI in pregnancy is unknown. A convenience sample of 60 women will be recruited, with 30 women randomized to the intervention arm and 30 to the control arm .

Secondary objectives of pilot trial: To evaluate feasibility and methodological barriers for a future randomized controlled trial.

Experimental Design:


Data Analysis:

  • Vaginal Bleeding Recorded as absent or present.
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    What Are The Benefits Of Using A Pessary

    A vaginal pessary is a prosthetic device that is fitted inside the vagina and is typically made of silicone, which is a flexible material. This device holds the prolapsed organ in its place.

    Women who do not want surgical repairs for problems, such as the cervix or uterine prolapse and stressurinary incontinence, significantly benefit from using a vaginal pessary. Organ prolapse, particularly cervical, vaginal or bladder, happens when the ligaments and muscles that hold the organ become weak and drop down into the vagina. Stress urinary incontinence is the leaking of urine when you cough, strain during bowel movements or exercise.

    Pessaries can be used safely for long-term management of pelvic organ prolapse. Some women can comfortably wear the pessaries for years, whereas others may prefer to use them only during physical activities, such as jogging and moderate to high-intensity exercises.

    Are There Any Side Effects

    Some increase in vaginal discharge is expected . Vaginal irritation is another possible side effect and women who are past menopause may need to use oestrogen cream.

    Occasionally, women can report a new onset of urinary Ieakage with pessary use, as lifting of the pelvic organs can sometimes unmask stress urinary incontinence. In this case, your Physiotherapist will help you find the best pessary style and solution.

    Most of the potential side effects of using a pessary are very low risk and can be managed well with regular self-care and follow-up. However, if you have yellow/green vaginal discharge or any bleeding, bad vaginal odour, or you are unable to empty your bladder or bowel, remove the pessary immediately if you are able and contact your health care provider.

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    How Is A Pessary Fitted

    A healthcare provider will try to find the right size of pessary for your vagina. They may need to try a few before ensuring it fits properly. If the pessary is small, your vagina will not be able to hold it for long. If it is large, you may find it uncomfortable because it stretches the vagina.

    Although the insertion of the pessary takes anywhere between 30 and 45 seconds, you may need to wait 15 to 20 minutes, during which, your healthcare provider will observe if you are feeling any discomfort by asking you to walk.

    Benefits And Side Effects Of Using A Pessary

    #23038 User satisfaction study of a vaginal support pessary to prevent urine leakage during high…

    Most women find they are able to successfully use a pessary for two years or more without requiring surgery for their condition.

    There are sometimes mild side effects from pessary use, such as vaginal irritation, foul-smelling discharge, and urinary tract infections. However, because the pessary is removable, any side effects experienced can usually be corrected quickly.

    Its possible to have intercourse with a ring pessary in place, though most women prefer removing it for sexual activity.

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    Effectiveness Of Pessary And Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy Alone And In Combination For Management Of Stress And Mixed Urinary Incontinence: A Literature Review

    Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology , , Canada

    Contributions: Conception and design: M Giroux, C Jabs, E Karreman Administrative support: None Provision of study materials or patients: None Collection and assembly of data: M Giroux, S McLellan, LP Beck, A Scollan, N Nelson, C Howe, J Henni Data analysis and interpretation: M Giroux Manuscript writing: All authors Final approval of manuscript: All authors.

    Correspondence to:

    Keywords: Stress urinary incontinence mixed urinary incontinence pessary pelvic floor physiotherapy

    Received: 07 January 2020 Accepted: 21 February 2020 Published: 25 March 2020.

    doi: 10.21037/gpm.2020.02.02

    Does Prolapse Cause Incontinence

    It sounds confusing, but prolapse can both cause and prevent incontinence. When the prolapse is mild, the part of the bladder and the urethra that drops downs actually causes incontinence. But when the prolapse is severe, it may actually block the urethra, preventing incontinence. This is very important to understand because if you elect to have surgery to fix the prolapse, unless the possibility of incontinence is evaluated beforehand, the surgery often makes the incontinence much worse or even brings on new incontinence. Fortunately though, with proper pre-operative evaluation this can be recognized and the incontinence repaired at the same time so that the surgery is successful.

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    Factors Affecting Successful Fitting

    Several studies have evaluated the success of pessary fitting, with success rates ranging from 41% to 74%. Success rates of up to 62% have been reported in patients with stage III and IV prolapse, indicating that pessaries are an excellent option even in a population with advanced POP. Studies varied considerably in the definition of successful fitting with variable lengths of follow-upfrom 1 week to 36 months. In one study, up to 53% of women continued pessary use 3 years after successful pessary fitting. Most protocols for pessary fitting were similar, with initial fitting using a ring pessary and transition to a space-occupying pessary if the ring pessary failed.,, On average, 2 to 3 fittings were required until the appropriate pessary was found.,,,

    Factors associated with unsuccessful fitting include shortened vaginal length , wide vaginal introitus , history of previous pelvic surgery,, hysterectomy, or coexistence of stress urinary incontinence., Other factors associated with unsuccessful pessary fitting are obesity and younger age. Successful retention of a pessary is associated with hormone use and sexual activity. Anatomically, successful pessary fitting has been associated with a shorter perineal body at rest and a larger point Aa measurement. In a study by Handa and Jones, continued pessary use was thought to improve and perhaps slow progression of prolapse.

    Classification Of Uterine Prolapse


    Uterine prolapse is classified by degree . In first-degree uterine prolapse, the cervix is visible when the perineum is depressed. In second-degree prolapse, the cervix is visible outside of the vaginal introitus, while the uterine fundus remains inside. In third-degree prolapse, or procidentia, the entire uterus is outside of the vaginal introitus. Uterine prolapse is associated with incontinence, vaginitis, cystitis and, possibly, uterine malignancy.5

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    Can Women Use Tampons And Pessaries At The Same Time

    No, you cannot wear a pessary and tampon at the same time in fact, you should only use one or the other. Using both at once may cause vaginal irritation and increase your chances of infection.

    If you do split them up then it is important that you change your tampon before inserting a pessary, and remember to urinate just before using either product.

    You also need to take care when removing your tampon, if you are worried that it may be difficult then be sure to visit a doctor.

    Once the tampon is out, wash your hands thoroughly before inserting the pessary.

    When To See A Doctor

    A pessary can occasionally cause some complications:

    • Foul-smelling discharge. This could be a sign of a condition called bacterial vaginosis, which is an imbalance in the natural bacteria found in your vagina.
    • Irritation and even damage inside the vagina.
    • Bleeding.
    • Passing a small amount of urine during exercise or when you sneeze and cough. This is called stress incontinence.
    • Difficulty having sexual intercourse.
    • Urinary tract infections. Initial signs of this may be difficulty urinating, feeling unwell, or a high temperature.

    Its important that you see your doctor if you develop any signs of these complications, as they are usually very treatable.

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    How Successful Is Treatment For Urinary Incontinence

    The outlook is promising for urinary incontinence treatment. About 80% of people with urinary incontinence can improve or even be cured. The best outcome depends, of course, on getting the correct diagnosis and following your doctor’s advice to help improve your condition.

    American Academy of Family Physicians: “Urinary Incontinence: Embarrassing but Treatable.”

    Jennifer Anger, MD, MPH, urologist, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles.

    Amy Rosenman, MD, co-author, The Incontinence Solution, urogynecologist, Santa Monica, CA, associate clinical professor, UCLA.

    National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: “Urge Incontinence.”

    Halina Zynczynski, MD, director, division of Urogynecology and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery, Magee-Women’s Hospital, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA.

    American Family Physician: “Selecting Medications for the Treatment of Urinary Incontinence.”

    National Association for Continence: “Treatment Options for Incontinence.”

    American Urological Association: “Diagnosis and Treatment of Overactive Bladder in Adults: AUA/SUFU Guideline.”

    Global Library of Women’s Medicine.

    Rovner, E. Rev Urol., 2004

    Is A Pessary Better Than Surgery

    Pessary Care

    Although POP surgery has several advantages over pessary treatment, the risk of complications is higher and it might be less cost-effective. Since previous studies have shown promising results with pessary treatment, it might be an equivalent option in the treatment of POP, probably with less risk and lower cost.

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    Risks And Side Effects

    A properly fitted and maintained pessary brings very few risks for the patient. Common side effects, including vaginal irritation or odor, are most common when pessaries are not properly maintained. This may also make pessaries more difficult to remove.

    In rare instances, more serious complications can occur when a pessary is neglected for long periods of time. A classic example is a patient in a nursing home who has had a pessary in place for many years without proper care. In these instances, the pessary may bury itself in the vaginal wall or nearby organs.

    To avoid these problems, women should ensure they follow up for routine care. We also recommend that any woman wearing a pessary communicate this to a significant other, family member or close friend in case a medical emergency such as a stroke should occur, and she is not able to communicate this to a provider.

    With proper maintenance and care, the pessary has minimal risks, especially compared with the alternative option of surgery.

    Downfalls Of Existing Pessaries

    While existing pessaries are a less invasive treatment for urinary incontinence than surgery, they are far from perfect.

    Doctor appointments: Traditional pessaries require a physician prescription as they need to be inserted by a medical professional, as it may cause vaginal damage or be ineffective if fitted incorrectly.Loooong waitlists: Waitlists, especially after the pandemic, can be very long. Average waitlists to see a physician in Canada to get fitted for pessary is 6 to 12 months in most provinces.Finding the right fit: Many women find that they need to try several different types of pessaries before finding the right one. Which likely requires additional physician visits. And as our bodies change , pessaries that were once effective are no longer effective and you need to be fitted for another.The difficulty of insertion: Depending on the type of pessary used, many have to be lubricated or moistened before insertion into the vagina, making it difficult to re-insert, especially when not in the comfort of your own home. Pessaries also have to be inserted deep into the vagina, causing discomfort for many users. Many women may need to purchase an additional tool to assist with extracting a pessary.

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    Are There Any Risks Or Side Effects Of Having A Vaginal Pessary

    You may notice more vaginal discharge than normal. Your vaginal discharge may also develop an odour. Vaginal irritation is another possible side effect. Women who are past the menopause may need to use oestrogen cream to help relieve the irritation.

    Vaginal erosions and ulcers that can cause some vaginal bleeding are reported in around 1 in 6 women. Other common side effects include stress urinary incontinence, interference with sexual intercourse, and difficulty with bowel movements. Urinary tract infections have been reported in 1 in 9, and bacterial inflammation of the vagina in up to 1 in 3 pessary users.

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

    Successful Pessary Fitting And Continued Use

    Pessaries: Women

    A pessary fitting is considered unsuccessful if the provider fails to obtain an adequate fit after at least three attempts or the patient finds the pessary painful and intends to discontinue its use.42 The causes for unsuccessful fittings include a widened genital introitus , a short vaginal length of < 6 cm, and posterior compartment defects.45

    Multicenter studies reported 89%92% success rate for fitting pessaries in women with SUI.40,42 However, the population of women using a pessary for SUI is younger, less likely to have had previous surgery, and have a longer vaginal length than the population with prolapse.

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    Indications And Contraindications For Pessary Use

    Pessaries should be considered for all women presenting with SUI, in particular when conservative management is appropriate. Excellent candidates for pessary use include pregnant patients, elderly women for whom surgery would be a risk, and women in whom a previous operation for SUI have failed. Additionally, pessaries are a valid option for patients who only have SUI with strenuous physical activity.38 Although their use is not recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, UK, due to limited high quality evidence,39 the rate of application is increasing due to low cost, ease of use, and infrequent side effects.40

    There are very few contraindications for pessary use, allowing clinicians to offer pessaries to almost all patients presenting with prolapse and incontinence. However, a pessary should not be placed in a patient with evidence of active pelvic or vaginal infection, severe ulceration, allergy to silicone or rubber, and patients who are noncompliant and unlikely to follow-up.41

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