A posterior vaginal prolapse is a bulge of tissue into the vagina. It happens when the tissue between the rectum and the vagina weakens or tears. This causes the rectum to push into the vaginal wall. Posterior vaginal prolapse is also called a rectocele (REK-toe-seel).
Childbirth-related tears, chronic straining to pass stool (constipation) and other activities that put pressure on pelvic tissues can lead to posterior vaginal prolapse. A small prolapse might not cause symptoms.
With a large prolapse, you might notice a bulge of tissue that pushes through the opening of the vagina. To pass stool, you might need to support the vaginal wall with your fingers. This is called splinting. The bulge can be uncomfortable, but it's rarely painful.
If needed, self-care measures and other nonsurgical options are often effective. For severe posterior vaginal prolapse, you might need surgery to fix it.
A small posterior vaginal prolapse (rectocele) might cause no symptoms.
Otherwise, you may notice:
- A soft bulge of tissue in the vagina that might come through the opening of the vagina
- Trouble having a bowel movement
- Feeling pressure or fullness in the rectum
- A feeling that the rectum has not completely emptied after a bowel movement
- Sexual concerns, such as feeling embarrassed or sensing looseness in the tone of the vaginal tissue
Many women with posterior vaginal prolapse also have prolapse of other pelvic organs, such as the bladder or uterus. A surgeon can evaluate the prolapse and talk about options for surgery to fix it.
When to see a doctor
Sometimes, posterior vaginal prolapse doesn't cause problems. But moderate or severe posterior vaginal prolapses might be uncomfortable. See a health care provider if your symptoms affect your day-to-day life.
Posterior vaginal prolapse results from pressure on the pelvic floor or trauma. Causes of increased pelvic floor pressure include:
- Birth-related tears
- Forceps or operative vaginal deliveries
- Long-lasting constipation or straining with bowel movements
- Long-lasting cough or bronchitis
- Repeated heavy lifting
- Being overweight
Pregnancy and childbirth
The muscles, ligaments and connective tissue that support the vagina stretch during pregnancy, labor and delivery. This can make those tissues weaker and less supportive. The more pregnancies you have, the greater your chance of developing posterior vaginal prolapse.
If you've only had cesarean deliveries, you're less likely to develop posterior vaginal prolapse. But you still could develop the condition.
Anyone with a vagina can develop posterior vaginal prolapse. However, the following might increase the risk:
- Genetics. Some people are born with weaker connective tissues in the pelvic area. This makes them naturally more likely to develop posterior vaginal prolapse.
- Childbirth. Having vaginally delivered more than one child increases the risk of developing posterior vaginal prolapse. Tears in the tissue between the vaginal opening and anus (perineal tears) or cuts that make the opening of the vagina bigger (episiotomies) during childbirth might also increase risk. Operative vaginal deliveries, and forceps specifically, increase the risk of developing this condition.
- Aging. Growing older causes loss of muscle mass, elasticity and nerve function, which causes muscles to stretch or weaken.
- Obesity. Extra body weight places stress on pelvic floor tissues.
To help keep posterior vaginal prolapse from getting worse, you might try to:
- Perform Kegel exercises regularly. These exercises can strengthen pelvic floor muscles. This is especially important after having a baby.
- Treat and prevent constipation. Drink plenty of fluids and eat high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole-grain cereals.
- Avoid heavy lifting and lift correctly. Use your legs instead of your waist or back to lift.
- Control coughing. Get treatment for a chronic cough or bronchitis, and don't smoke.
- Avoid weight gain. Ask your health care provider to help you determine the best weight for you. Ask for advice on how to lose weight, if needed.