But by far the most common cause of bladder pain is a condition known as interstitial cystitis (IC) or, as it is sometimes referred to, Painful Bladder Syndrome (PBS). It occurs when your bladder becomes inflamed or irritated and is usually most painful when you have a full bladder.
Until recently, Painful Bladder Syndrome had been hard to diagnose with an estimated 400,000 people in UK with IC/PBS, of whom 90% are females and 10% are males. PBS can also, to a lesser extent effect children.
Bladder pain symptoms
One of the main reasons PBS has been hard to diagnose is because the symptoms are very similar to those of a bladder infection.
However, because no bacteria is found during a urine test, and there is generally no response to antibiotic treatment, your doctor may suggest you are suffering from Painful Bladder Syndrome.
Women with PBS experience bladder pain when their bladder fills and find brief relief when they urinate. So, in order to be as pain free as possible, a woman with PBS can go to the toilet between 15-40 times over a 24 hour period. Consequently, sleep deprivation becomes an added complication to this painful condition. The symptoms can also be irritated by sexual activity or if your period is due.
Generally though, symptoms of PBS can include:
- frequent urination—including having to get up to go to the toilet during the night
- an urgent need to urinate
- urinary incontinence or leaking
- pain (abdominal, urethral, vaginal or perineal)
Other characteristics that may contribute to PBS include:
- a scarred or stiff bladder
- glomerulations (pin point bleeding)
- ulcers (Hunner’s ulcers) and lesions in the bladder
Bladder pain can be extremely painful and many women find they are unable to work full time. In some cases it can even cause related mental and emotional health issues.
Diagnosing bladder pain
Unfortunately, diagnosing bladder pain often takes a long time as other possible causes have to be excluded first.
There is no single diagnostic test for Painful Bladder Syndrome. However, your doctor will want to thoroughly examine your medical history along with giving you a pelvic examination and ordering a series of urine tests. This is done to rule out other treatable conditions before they consider a diagnosis of PBS.
The most common of these conditions in both men and women are urinary tract infections and bladder cancer. For men, other common diseases your doctor might look for include chronic prostatitis or chronic pelvic pain syndrome. For women, endometriosis is a common cause of pelvic pain.
So, diagnosis of PBS is generally attributed to:
- pain related to the bladder, usually accompanied by frequency and urgency of urination, and;
- absence of other diseases that could cause the symptoms
Your doctor will probably order diagnostic tests that help rule out other causes of bladder pain, including:
Urinalysis and urine culture — examining urine under a microscope and creating a culture can identify the primary organisms that are known to infect the urinary tract and that may cause symptoms similar to PBS.
Culture of prostate secretions — this is a rarely performed procedure where prostatic fluid is obtained and examined it for signs of a prostate infection, which can then be treated with antibiotics.
Cystoscopy under anaesthesia (with bladder distention) — a cystoscope (a tube about the diameter of a drinking straw with several lenses and a light) is used to see inside the bladder and urethra. Your doctor might also distend or stretch the bladder to its capacity by filling it with a liquid or gas. This is painful for people with PBS and usually performed under anaesthesia.
Cystoscope biopsy — a biopsy is taken during a cystoscopy to help rule out bladder cancer.
Main causes of bladder pain
The exact causes of Painful Bladder Syndrome are unknown, but theory suggests an event may act as a trigger to bring on the pain.
Some of these triggers may be:
- Bacterial infection
- Bladder overextension due to long periods without going to the bathroom
- An injury to the nerves in or surrounding the bladder or spinal cord
- Problem due to a surgical procedure or physical injury
Others theorise the symptoms of PBS may arise from several different abnormalities in the bladder itself — specifically: the bladder surface, the blood supply to the bladder or to microorganisms present in the bladder.
And yet more suggest bladder pain may result from autoimmunity (where the body attacks its own healthy cells), or from the release of histamine from elevated numbers of mast cells in the bladder.
Bladder pain treatment
Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for PBS yet.
However, even when symptoms disappear because of a change in diet or other treatments are employed, they may return after a few days, weeks, months, or even years.
Because the causes of PBS are unknown, current treatments are aimed at relieving the symptoms rather than curing the condition.
The severity of your bladder pain may mean trying a combination of different treatments to see what works best for you. These may include a combination of lifestyle changes and medical treatments.
Lifestyle changes could be:
- Change of diet (reduce intake of high acid food/drink like spicy foods, caffeinated soft drinks, alcohol and chocolate)
- Give up smoking
- Gentle stretching exercises
- Bladder training
Medical treatments may include:
- Prescription medicine
- Physical therapy
- Bladder distension
- Bladder instillation (also called a bladder wash or bath)
- Electrical nerve stimulation
- Surgery (as a last resort and only if pain is debilitating)
- fulguration and resection of ulcers
- augmentation, (bladder enlargement)
- cystectomy (bladder removal)
You should always see your doctor before trying any treatments, but these little tips might help ease your bladder pain, and they can be done in the safety and comfort of your own home:
- Putting a hot water bottle on the perineum (the area between your anus and the vagina)
- Relax in a squatting position with your knees drawn up towards your chest
- Drink 8 glasses of water a day to ensure your urine doesn’t become too concentrated and cause irritation
- Wear loose-fitting underwear, trousers or skirts to help you stay comfortable.
Naturally, if your bladder pain is persistent or if a particular symptom concerns you, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Kimberly-Clark makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.
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