Those taking care of elderly women know that there are some conditions which affect women more than men — or in some cases, exclusively affect women. One of these lesser-known conditions is a prolapsed bladder, which some senior women may be prone to develop as they age.
What is it?
The bladder is one of the most familiar body parts, well known for its role in the urinary process. When the bladder is full, urine makes its way out of the body.
In women, the bladder is positioned so that it basically rests on the front wall of the vagina. As long as the vagina is capable of providing strong support, everything is fine. However, often the vagina’s strength wanes over the years, with the result that the bladder may begin to “droop” into the vagina. This is what is known as a prolapsed bladder.
Depending on the severity, a prolapsed bladder can be categorized in one of four stages:
- Mild, in which only a small part of the bladder is invading the organ.
- Moderate, in which enough of the bladder has fallen in to be felt at the opening of the vagina.
- Severe, in which the bladder actually begins to stick out of the vaginal opening.
- Complete, in which the entire bladder has fallen into the organ.
Why does a woman get a prolapsed bladder? It occurs because the vagina may be weakened or damaged. As a woman ages, her muscles (including those in the vaginal area) may simply get weaker; this is especially likely after menopause. (Post-menopausal women produce less estrogen, which plays a big role in keeping muscles strong.) Sometimes it can be due to stress, such as that which may occur in childbirth. However, straining from heavy lifting or other causes may also create sufficient stress to bring about the condition.
Senior women and those taking care of elderly women should be aware of some common symptoms associated with a prolapsed bladder, including:
- Incontinence and/or frequent urination
- Urinary tract infections
- Pain in the area
- Bleeding from tissue protruding from the vagina
The severity of the prolapsed bladder will determine treatment. In some severe cases, surgery is required. Often estrogen therapy is required to strengthen the muscles. A pessary, which is a device used to keep the bladder positioned, may be used. Lifestyle modifications, such as avoiding heavy lifting, are often recommended.
Those taking care of an elderly woman with symptoms of a prolapsed bladder should take their patient to the doctor for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.