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Cystocele/Rectocele...what is it?

​(Pelvic Relaxation; Bladder Prolapse; Fallen Bladder/Rectocele; Protruding Rectum) 

Pronounced: SIS-tuh-seal/REK-tuh-seal

​by Nicky Lowney, MA



A cystocele occurs when part of the bladder wall bulges into the vagina. The bulge happens through a defect in the fascia. This is the connective tissue that separates the vagina from the bladder.  There are three grades of cystocele:


Grade 1: mildest form, where the bladder drops only partway into the vagina

Grade 2: moderate form, where the blader has sunken far enough to reach the opening of the vagina

Grade 3: most severe form, where the bladder falls into the vagina

A rectocele occurs when part of the wall of the rectum bulges into the vagina. The bulge happens through a defect in the fascia between the rectum and vagina.


The sooner that cystocele or rectocele are treated, the more favorable the outcome. If you suspect you have this condition, contact your doctor.



The walls between the vagina and bladder or rectum can be damaged by one or more of the following factors:

  • Difficult vaginal births

  • Multiple births

  • The use of forceps to assist delivery

  • Perineal tears during delivery

  • Episiotomy during birth

  • Strain from lifting heavy objects

  • Chronic cough

  • Chronic constipation

  • Weakening of vaginal muscles caused by a lack of estrogen after menopause


Risk Factors


If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor:


 Age: postmenopausal


  • History of difficult vaginal births

  • History of straining during bowel movements

  • Obesity

  • Smoking





Many cases are mild and do not have symptoms.

In more serious cases, the symptoms of cystocele include:


  • Urine leakage while laughing, sneezing, or coughing

  • Incomplete bladder emptying after urination

  • Pain or pressure in the pelvis

  • Frequent bladder infections

  • Pain during sexual intercourse

  • Feeling of tissue bulging out of vagina


Symptoms of rectocele include:


  • Pain or pressure in the vagina

  • Pain during sexual intercourse

  • Pain or pressure in the rectum

  • Difficult passage of stool

  • Needing to apply pressure on vagina to pass stool

  • Feelings of incomplete stool passage

  • Feeling of tissue bulging out of vagina


If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to cystocele or rectocele. These symptoms may be caused by other, less or more serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your doctor.



Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests for cystocele may include the following:


  • Pelvic examination

  • Voiding cystourethrogram—an x-ray test done during urination

  • Urine tests to look for signs of infection


Tests for rectocele may include:


  • Examination of the vagina and rectum

  • Defecagram—an x-ray test done during defecation



Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. For the mildest cases of cystocele and rectocele, no treatment is needed. For more serious cases, treatment options include the following:


Activity Modification

  • Your doctor may suggest that you avoid heavy lifting

  • Kegal exercises (squeezing the pelvic floor muscles) may help to strengthen the muscles around the vagina and bladder

  • For rectocele—a diet that allows for easy passage of stools by adding fiber, liquids, and a stool softener if necessary



A pessary is a device that is inserted into the vagina. It can provide support to keep the bladder and/or rectum in place.


Estrogen Replacement Therapy

Adding estrogen may help strengthen the walls of the vagina after menopause . It may be delivered in the form of pills, creams, or patches.




For severe cases, surgery may be needed to move the bladder or rectum back into place.

If you are diagnosed with cystocele or rectocele, follow your doctor's instructions .






To help reduce your chances of getting cystocele and rectocele, take the following steps:


  • Avoid heavy lifting.

  • Treat constipation.

  • Quit smoking.

  • Maintain a healthy weight

  • Learn Pfilates (pelvic floor) exercises (click on the workshop button)

  • Master the art of breathing

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