Wondering what a prolapsed bladder feels like and curious if you have one? Maybe you’ve started feeling a heaviness in your pelvic floor region. Or, you may even feel like something is falling out of your vagina. These are classic symptoms of a prolapsed bladder, also known as a cystocele a dropped bladder, or a fallen bladder. Learn more about what a prolapsed bladder is below, what it feels like, and how it’s treated.
WHAT IS A PROLAPSED BLADDER?
The pelvic floor is a web of muscles and tissues that supports your pelvic organs, including the bladder, bowel, and uterus. (Learn more about the pelvic floor and it’s function in NAFC’s Pelvic Floor Health Center!) When these muscles and tissues become weakened or damaged, one or more of these pelvic organs can drop or collapse, causing uncomfortable symptoms. Pelvic organ prolapse is a surprisingly common condition. In fact, it’s estimated that about half of women over 50 have some level of prolapse.
While any of the organs listed above can drop, the most common type of prolapse is a dropped bladder, also known as a cystocele.
There are different levels of a prolapsed bladder, which are measured on a grade from 1-3 with 1 being the mildest, and grade 3 being the most severe. The grade of prolapse is measured by how far the bladder has fallen into the vagina.
A grade 1 cystocele is when the bladder has dropped only slightly. A grade 2 cystocele is when the bladder has dropped to the opening of the vagina. A prolapsed bladder is classified as a grade 3 when the bladder has fallen so far that it bulges out of the vagina.
WHAT CAUSES A PROLAPSED BLADDER?
A bladder prolapse is caused when the pelvic floor has become weakened or compromised. Some of the most common things that can cause a prolapse are childbirth and menopause.
During pregnancy and childbirth, an enormous amount of pressure is placed upon the pelvic floor – both from carrying a growing baby for nine months and from the act of giving birth itself.
When women go through menopause, their levels of estrogen go down. Because estrogen helps to keep the vaginal walls strong, when those levels decrease, it can cause the vaginal walls to thin and the connective tissues to weaken. This weakness can make it difficult for the pelvic floor to continue supporting the pelvic floor organs, leading one or more of them to collapse inward into the vaginal opening.
In many cases, women may develop a slight prolapse during childbirth, and only later experience bladder prolapse symptoms as it gets worse during menopause, which further weakens the pelvic floor.
Other things can cause a bladder prolapse too. Anything that puts repeated pressure on the pelvic floor can cause damage, including straining to have a bowel movement, repeated heavy lifting, chronic coughing, or even being obese. Surgical procedures, such as a hysterectomy, can also weaken the pelvic floor and lead to a prolapse.
WHAT DOES A PROLAPSED BLADDER FEEL LIKE?
Many women may start to experience fallen bladder symptoms and not realize what they are. If you’re wondering what a bladder prolapse feels like, keep reading.
A dropped bladder will have different symptoms based on the grade of the prolapse. Many people with a grade 1 prolapse may not experience any symptoms, or they may be very mild.
Women with a grade 2 or 3 level of prolapse often describe a feeling of heaviness or discomfort, or an increase of vaginal pressure. Some women will experience low back pain, pelvic pain, or a feeling of “fullness” in the vagina. Some may even say that they feel like their bladder is falling out. These are all common fallen bladder symptoms.
With a grade 2 or 3 level prolapse, you may be able to feel a small bulge in the vagina or at the vaginal opening, or may even be able to see the bulge coming out of your vagina when looking with a mirror.
How To Check For A Bladder Prolapse At Home:
For a quick self check, place a mirror between your legs, and bear down as if you’re having a bowel movement. Do you see a bulge at the opening of your vagina?
You can also usually feel a prolapsed bladder with your finger by inserting a clean, lubricated finger into your vagina and again, bear down as if you are having a bowel movement. Do you feel a bulge against your finger? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should make an appointment with your doctor to get a full examination.
Some women with severe prolapse say that it feels like they are sitting on a ball. Others describe the feeling as something “falling out of their vagina.”
Gravity can play a role in your bladder prolapse symptoms as well. Many women find that their symptoms get worse as the day goes on, especially if they are on their feet a lot. Women may report feeling increased vaginal pressure the longer they are active or standing. Lying down to rest is helpful when symptoms become too much.
If you are premenopausal, or perimenopausal, you may find that your prolapse symptoms feel more intense just before and during your period. If this is the case, try to plan your activities around these days to keep your symptoms at bay.
A prolapsed bladder can also cause you to experience bladder leaks since the bladder and urethra have less support from the pelvic floor muscles. You may also experience pain during sex.
The Emotional Toll
In addition to the physical symptoms of a prolapsed bladder, many women often feel an extreme emotional burden when they discover they have a prolapse. It’s understandable – it can be very unsettling to feel something coming out of your body, especially in such a private area. This is especially true since many women are unaware that something like a prolapse could even happen until it actually does. General awareness of pelvic organ prloapse, including what it is, how it occurs, and how to treat it, is very low.
Women have reported feeling “broken” because of their prolapse, and they may mourn some of the activities they used to enjoy, such as long-distance running or intense exercise.
Anxiety around bladder leaks or apprehension about having sex are also common feelings. While sex won’t make a prolapse worse, some women report feeling less sexually attractive, not to mention the pain that can sometimes occur with sex when you have a prolapse.
Women may also feel that the road to recovery, or feeling like themselves again, is a long haul. While treatments such as physical therapy can be very effective, it takes time for the muscles to strengthen and requires dedication on behalf of the patient to do the appropriate exercises. And, surgical treatments can feel scary or intimidating.
It’s important for women to know that they are not alone – nearly half of women will develop some level of prolapse in their lifetime. And, while a prolapse will never go away on its own, there are things that can be done to strengthen the pelvic floor and manage symptoms.
Treatment Options For A Prolapsed Bladder
Many women wonder if they can just push a prolapsed bladder back into place. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really work as the tissues have been damaged and the pelvic floor muscles have weakened to the point where they’re not strong enough to hold the bladder in place. But there are many treatment options for a prolapsed bladder, ranging from things you can do right at home, to surgical procedures designed to put everything back where it belongs.
Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy
One of the most common forms of treatment for a prolapsed bladder, and one that many people opt for first, is physical therapy. The pelvic floor is a muscle, and just like other muscles in the body, it can be strengthened with the appropriate exercises.
A physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor therapy can work with you to determine the extent of your prolapse, gauge the strength of your pelvic floor muscles, and set you up on a routine to ensure the pelvic floor is working as it should.
Pessaries For Bladder Prolapse
Another option for treating prolapse is a pessary. A pessary is a small disc-shaped device that is inserted into the vagina and helps to “hold things up”, relieving some of the pressure and other symptoms of prolapse. A pessary may be used in conjunction with physical therapy and may be ideal for those who experience symptoms during specific activities, such as when working.
Surgery For Pelvic Organ Prolapse
Finally, if your prolapse is greatly affecting your life, keeping you from things you like to do, or causing you a lot of pain and discomfort, surgery may be an option for you. Reconstructive surgery helps to restore the organs to their original position and is the most common type of surgery for pelvic organ prolapse. Be sure to talk with your doctor about all the pros and cons of surgery. While successful for many women, there are always risks associated with surgical procedures, and some women may see their organ prolapse again even after surgery or may find that the surgery has created problems in another part of their pelvic floor.
Women wanting to have more children should hold off on surgery until they are sure they are finished.
Talk To Your Doctor
If you have a prolapsed bladder, know that you can still live a very full and active life, doing many of the same things you did prior to having a prolapse. Talk to your doctor about treatment options. A pelvic floor physical therapist is a good first step and can help you to strengthen your muscles naturally. Beyond that, a urogynecologist is a good option for more advanced treatments.