What is causing my bladder pain?

Usually, you won’t be able to feel your bladder at all but, in some cases, you’ll feel pain or a burning sensation. This can happen to both men and women and there are many different reasons why your bladder might suddenly start hurting. But let’s take a look at the most common ones.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Although both men and women can get a UTI, it’s much more common among women. But what actually is a UTI? It’s an infection of your urinary tract that’s caused by bacteria entering your urinary system via your urethra. This is the hollow tube that connects your bladder to the outside world and provides an exit route for urine. If a UTI remains untreated, the bacteria can wander up your urinary tract all the way to your kidneys where they cause a kidney infection.

How do you know if you’re suffering from a UTI? You’ll likely experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • A feeling of pressure in your bladder or pelvic area
  • Having to go for a pee more often than usual
  • Bladder pain
  • Pain when going for a pee
  • Pain in your lower abdomen or back
  • Cloudy and bloody urine

To diagnose a UTI, your GP will likely check your urine for white and red blood cells as well as bacteria. This is called a urinalysis. Your GP might also perform a urine culture which will determine which bacteria is causing your infection. If your UTIs are frequent, further testing might be needed to make sure there are no abnormalities in your urinary tract. These tests can include a CT scan, an ultrasound, or a cystoscopy.

To rid you of your UTI, your GP will likely prescribe a short course of oral antibiotics and, if it’s very painful, you’ll likely also get some pain relief. If your UTI is stubborn or severe you might have to take a longer course of antibiotics or stay in hospital for IV antibiotics.

Interstitial Cystitis (IC)

IC, also known as painful bladder syndrome, is a chronic condition that mostly affects women and causes urinary pain. It is currently not known what causes IC but it is thought that a problem with the lining of your bladder wall is to blame. What is known is that certain factors like stress, medication, or your diet can trigger symptoms.

The most common symptom of IC is pain as your bladder fills up. This will generally improve again when your bladder is empty again after you went for a pee. You might also feel constantly “aware” of your bladder. Your symptoms can range anywhere from mild to severe and can be very different from person to person. Possible symptoms include:

  • Pain between your scrotum & anus if you’re a man
  • Pain in your bladder, pelvis, or abdomen
  • Having to pee more frequently than usual
  • Strong urge to pee
  • Burning pain when going for a pee
  • Pain between your vagina & anus if you’re a woman
  • Pain when having sex

To diagnose IC, your doctor might ask you to keep a bladder diary for a few days ahead your first consultation. Not sure how to do that? Don’t worry, we made it as easy as possible for you! Simply download our bladder diary here and print it out. All you have to do is fill in the needed information! At your first consultation with your GP, they will have a chat with you about all your symptoms and likely perform one or more of the following tests:

  • Urinary function tests
  • Prostate exam if you’re a man
  • Urinalysis to check your symptoms aren’t caused by an infection
  • Pelvic exam if you’re a woman
  • Cystoscopy to take a look at the lining of your bladder
  • Potassium sensitivity test

At the moment, there’s unfortunately no medication to treat IC and your individual treatment will be based on your symptoms. It can include one or more of the following options:

  • Bladder stretching: Your bladder is filled with liquid in order to stretch it. You’ll be given medication as the stretching can be quite painful without it.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist might be able to help you stretch your pelvic floor muscles and teach you how you can keep them relaxed. This can relieve some of your symptoms and is especially good if you’re suffering from pelvic floor muscle spasms.
  • Medication: Over the counter and prescription medication can be used to ease bladder pain and to help the bladder relax.
  • Lifestyle changes: These will be recommended by your GP based on what you feel triggers your symptoms. Examples are not drinking alcohol, exercising gently, changing parts of your diet, or quitting smoking.
  • Bladder retaining: With bladder retaining, you can teach your bladder how to hold more urine. It involves taking note of how often you go for a pee and then gradually increase the times between your bathroom trips. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry, we’ve got an easy-to-follow guide right here for you.
  • Bladder instillation: A liquid containing medication to reduce any irritation is inserted into your bladder where it will stay for around 15 minutes before being released. If effective, this treatment can be repeated every one to two weeks for about one to two months.
  • Surgery: Having surgery for IC is only recommended if your symptoms are severe and other treatments before haven’t provided any relief. Surgical treatment can involve bladder augmentation or enlargement, a cystectomy to remove your bladder, or a urinary diversion that will reroute the way your urine exits your body.
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Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer is generally rare and much more common in men than it is in women. It most often occurs after the age of 55 and is known to affect smokers up to three times more.

The most common symptom of bladder cancer is having blood in your urine without any associated pain. Most people will not have any other symptoms but, if other symptoms are present, they can include the following:

  • Having trouble peeing
  • Pain or a burning sensation when peeing
  • Having to pee more frequently
  • Urgency to pee even when your bladder isn’t full
  • A weak urinary stream

If your bladder cancer is more advanced, it can spread and affect other organs in your body. Symptoms can include:

  • Pain in your pelvis or abdomen
  • Not being able to pee
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bone pain
  • One-sided pain in your lower back
  • General weakness or fatigue

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, your doctor will likely run tests to determine whether you are suffering from bladder cancer. These tests can include:

  • Imaging tests
  • Urine culture
  • Urinalysis
  • Cystoscopy
  • Urine cytology
  • Urine tumour marker tests
  • Biopsy

How your bladder cancer is treated fully depends on which type of bladder cancer you’re suffering from and how advanced it is, but it usually involves one or more of the following treatments:

  • Radiation: This can be used to treat early-stage bladder cancer and is usually done if, for any reason, you can’t have surgery in these stages. In combination with chemotherapy, it can also be used treat advanced bladder cancer.
  • Chemotherapy: This is used to kill cancer cells in your body, and you can either get it in tablet form or via IV. There is also something called intravesical chemotherapy which means that the chemotherapy drugs are administered directly into the bladder. This is generally used for bladder cancer in the very early stages.
  • Surgery: The type of surgery fully depends on the stage of your cancer. It might include removing a tumour, part of the bladder, or the whole bladder.
  • Immunotherapy: This means that you will get medication that helps your immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells as they appear.

Key Takeaways

Overall, bladder pain is much more common in women as, most of the time, it is caused by a UTI or IC. Make sure to always speak to your nurse or GP about any symptoms you’re experiencing in order to determine the cause for your bladder pain and start treatment.