(Pelvic Relaxation; Bladder Prolapse; Fallen Bladder/Rectocoele; Protruding Rectum)

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


Connective tissue separates the pelvic organs. The tissue, called fascia, is attached to nearby muscles. The fascia and muscles support the bladder, vagina, and rectum. Defects in the fascia can cause cystoceles and rectoceles.

In a cystocele, there is a defect in the fascia between the bladder and vagina. This allows a part of the bladder wall to bulge into the vagina. There are 3 grades of cystocele:

  • Grade 1—mildest form, where the bladder drops only partway into the vagina
  • Grade 2—moderate form, where the bladder has sunken far enough to reach the opening of the vagina
  • Grade 3—most severe form, where the bladder sags through the opening of the vagina


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In a rectocele, there is a defect in the fascia between the rectum and the vagina. This allows part of the wall of the rectum to bulge into the vagina.


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The sooner that a cystocele or rectocele is treated, the better 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:

  • 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

Postmenopausal women are at increased risk.

Factors that increase your risk for a cystocele or rectocele include:

  • 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
  • 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 the vagina to pass stool
  • Feelings of incomplete stool passage
  • Feeling of tissue bulging out of vagina


You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may also have a vaginal and rectal exam.

You may need to have images taken of your urine and bowel activity. This can be done with:

  • Voiding cystourethrogram
  • Defecogram

Your bodily fluids may need to be tested. This can be done with urine tests.


Talk with your doctor about the best 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.
  • Kegel exercises, which involve squeezing the pelvic floor muscles, may help to strengthen the muscles around the vagina and bladder.
  • A diet that allows for easy passage of stools may help with a rectocele. The diet should include fiber, liquids, and a stool softener if advised.


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.


To help reduce your chances of a cystocele or rectocele:

  • Avoid heavy lifting.
  • Perform Kegel exercises regularly.
  • Treat constipation.
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists


Canadian Urological Association
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada


Cystocele (prolapsed bladder). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: Updated March 2014. Accessed December 18, 2017.
A healthy pregnancy for women with diabetes. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Published December 2011. Accessed October 27, 2014.
Pelvic organ prolapse. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated March 23, 2015. Accessed December 18, 2017.
Rectocele. American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons website. Available at: Accessed December 18, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD