A condition like prolapse is not the same for every woman.
A fallen bladder can be more or less severe, have different causes, and women can go through different phases.
Here’s what you need to know about bladder prolapse stages.
Understanding Bladder Prolapse
Women have important muscles known as the pelvic floor, which are several layers of muscle that are attached to the front, back and sides of your pelvic bone.1 The pelvic floor muscles act like a hammock, holding up your pelvic organs, including the uterus, bladder and rectum.2 They also help control important functions like urination.
When those muscles weaken, issues known generally as pelvic floor dysfunction can be the result. One of those, a cystocele, is also known as a prolapsed, herniated, dropped or fallen bladder.3
The bladder is the important organ that holds your urine. Sometimes the muscles and ligaments that hold the bladder up as well the muscle between a woman’s vagina and bladder, stretch or weaken, resulting in the cystocele.3 When this happens, the bladder drops from its usual position in the pelvis and pushes on the wall of the vagina.4
A cystocele or prolapsed bladder can be uncomfortable, but it is rarely painful. It can be a problem that leads to bladder infections, however, as in some instances it can be difficult to fully empty your bladder.4 It may impact daily activities, so it’s important to see a doctor and get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Risk Factors that Can Lead to Bladder Prolapse
Along with stress to your pelvic floor caused by things like pregnancy, doctors have identified some risk factors that can cause the muscles to weaken and the bladder to sag into the vagina:3, 4
- Vaginal births.
- Family history or genetics, as some women are born with weaker connective tissues.
- Intense physical activity, including lifting heavy objects.
- Constipation, particularly when it leads to repeated straining during bowel movements.
- Frequent coughing or a chronic cough caused by issues like bronchitis.
- Aging, menopause and a resulting drop in the hormone estrogen.
- Undergoing a hysterectomy.
Bladder Prolapse Stages
Not all women suffer with the same type of cystocele, and sometimes the condition progresses.
First, there is both asymptomatic and symptomatic prolapse. Asymptomatic prolapse means the bladder has dropped but nothing extends beyond the vaginal opening. Meanwhile, symptomatic prolapse refers to when there is tissue that is protruding past the vaginal opening.5
Then doctors describe three grades or stages of cystocele:3
Grade 1 or mild cystocele: The bladder drops only a short way into the vagina.
Grade 2 or moderate cystocele: The bladder drops to the opening of the vagina.
Grade 3 or severe cystocele: The bladder bulges through the opening of the vagina.
Depending on the severity of the prolapse, symptoms range from a feeling of fullness or pressure in your pelvis and vagina, to a bulge of tissue in your vagina that you can see or feel. Some women experience increased pelvic pressure when straining or coughing, and it could lead to problems urinating, including difficulty starting or feeling like you didn’t empty, as well as the frequent need to urinate or leaking urine, known as urinary incontinence.4
It’s important to seek medical attention if you suspect an issue. Left untreated, your bladder prolapse can worsen and move from asymptomatic or severe. In the worst case, you may be unable to urinate, which can cause kidney damage or infection.3
Treatment options range from simply avoiding heavy lifting or straining to surgery. Prolapse can also be helped by weight loss, performing Kegel exercises, or estrogen replacement therapy. Sometimes doctors provide a device called a pessary, which is placed in the vagina to hold the bladder in place.3
There are also other types of prolapse, for instance uterine prolapse, vaginal prolapse, small bowel prolapse and rectal prolapse. It’s important to be properly diagnosed to understand your specific condition.
Ask Your Doctor
The symptoms of bladder prolapse can be similar to other pelvic disorders. While a cystocele may not be life-threatening, it can negatively impact your quality of life. Left undiagnosed and untreated, it can get worse.3 Use our Physician Finder to find a pelvic floor specialist in your area and get help for your bladder prolapse before it worsens.