When it comes to particular symptoms, especially related to the urinary tract, the first diagnosis, or assumption on the part of the patient, is a urinary tract infection, or UTI. While this is the most common ailment among patients experiencing a group of symptoms, there can be other conditions leading to the signs. A UTI requires antibiotics to clear up anyway, so seeing a doctor to be sure that the condition isn’t something more serious is crucial. One such condition often affecting women is a prolapsed bladder.
What is bladder prolapse?
The female anatomy includes several organs in the pelvic area. These are mostly related to the urinary tract and the reproductive and sexual organs. The way things are arranged is essential to a woman’s health. In this setup, the bladder is supported by the front wall of the vagina, and urine is collected in the bladder. Pressure from being full is what causes the urge to urinate, and then the urine passes out of the body through the urethra.
Grades of bladder prolapse
The severity of a prolapsed bladder is measured in grades, with four different grades recognized:
- Grade 1 is mild, with the bladder drooping slightly into the vaginal space.
- Grade 2 is considered moderate. The bladder drops sufficiently far to be noticeable in the opening of the vagina.
- A Grade 3 prolapse is severe, with the bladder actually protruding through the opening of the vagina.
- Grade 4 is complete, and this is when the bladder can be seen outside of the vagina. This is usually associated with some additional form of organ prolapse and is not common.
Causes of a prolapsed bladder
There are a few common causes associated with a bladder prolapse.
- Giving birth. The strain on the vagina weakens muscles and tissues that support the bladder, making this the most common cause of bladder prolapse.
- Menopause. Changes to hormones, especially estrogen, causes the strength and health of all reproductive organs and muscles to be compromised, leading to the possibility of bladder prolapse.
- Straining. Lifting a heavy object, working hard to have a bowel movement, long term cough, and similar stressors can all lead to the weakening of the vaginal wall and contribute to prolapsed bladder.
Symptoms of a prolapsed bladder
Some of the symptoms of the condition are very similar to what women experience when they have a UTI, and frequent or chronic UTIs are actually another symptom of a prolapsed bladder, since urination is compromised in many cases. Those who are experiencing symptoms of a UTI like the following should consult a physician:
- Discomfort and pain in the pelvic area, including lower abdomen and lower back
- Difficulty peeing, or a feeling like the bladder hasn’t been properly voided, especially right after urinating
- Painful urination
Additional symptoms related to prolapsed bladder that aren’t often associated with UTIs include:
- Stress incontinence – bladder leakage when sneezing, laughing, coughing, or during exertion
- Painful intercourse
- Tissue that protrudes from the vagina, often tender, and possibly bleeding
In many instances, however, women with grade 1, or mild, prolapsed bladder, won’t experience many symptoms until contracting a UTI.
Preventing prolapsed bladder
Knowing the predisposition and the risk factors can help a woman prepare for the possibility of a bladder prolapse. In order to avoid the issues, there are preventative measures that may be taken to help reduce the risk. Some of the most important steps to take are:
- Treating and preventing constipation. Straining to have a bowel movement in women can be detrimental to all pelvic muscles and tissues, since everything in the pelvic regions is closely connected in the female anatomy. Maintain a diet rich in fiber, and drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
- Kegel exercises. These are especially crucial for women who have recently given birth. Kegel exercises strengthen all of the muscles of the pelvic floor, helping to tighten and maintain proper health and support.
- Avoid lifting. Heavy lifting puts excess strain on the pelvis, especially if done incorrectly. Never use the back or the waist to lift. Bend the knees, and use the legs, if lifting is absolutely necessary.
- Stop coughing. Controlling a cough is necessary, since this puts strain on the muscles of the pelvic floor. A doctor can help treat chronic cough, bronchitis and other ailments that cause coughing, and prescribe medication for smoking cessation if this is the cause of frequent cough.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Heavier weight than is ideal for the body’s frame to support can put excess strain on all organs but especially on the pelvic floor. Speaking to a physician about ideal weight, weight loss strategies, diet, and exercise can help reduce the risk of experiencing bladder prolapse.
Bladder prolapse could be confused for a UTI in the early stages, and it could actually produce a UTI since it makes it more difficult to empty the bladder. However, as it progresses, a prolapse becomes more uncomfortable and can impact quality of life significantly. Taking precautions against both UTIs and bladder prolapse can increase overall health and lead to a happier future with fewer complications and concerns. Women should see an OBGYN regularly and maintain contact with a general practitioner to assure that their body is functioning normally, especially the urinary tract and reproductive system.