5 most common bladder issues explained

Are you running to the bathroom every hour because you can’t shake the urge to go the bathroom? Or do you leak urine when you cough, sneeze or laugh? Well, then you’re probably experiencing one of the five most common bladder health problems that plague Americans every day.

According to the National Association for Continence, an estimated 25 million Americans suffer from some form of urinary incontinence, and that one in four women over the age of 18 has experienced episodes of leaking urine involuntarily.

But even though many people experience the pain and embarrassment that goes along with these bladder issues, most sufferers don’t know that their problems can be remedied.

Baylor Scott & White urogynecologist, Wilma Larsen, MD, and pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery fellow, Fiona Lindo, MD, offer some helpful information and treatment options that are available for those inconvenient and often disruptive bladder issues.

Issue 1: Bladder Infections

Symptoms: If your body is fighting off a bladder infection, you might be experiencing frequency of urination, an urgency to go more often, pain during urination or blood in your urine.

Treatment: For an isolated infection, the patient will probably be given a round of antibiotics that only lasts a few days.


“But in other cases, where the person has repetitive infections, we may recommend a prolonged course of suppressive antibiotics,” Dr. Larsen said.

Issue 2: Overactive Bladder

Symptoms: “Those who have an overactive bladder (or urge incontinence) will complain of urgency and frequency, and the need to wear a pad because of urine leakage,” Dr. Lindo said.

Dr. Lindo said that experiencing these symptoms once in a while is normal, but if these problems are recurrent and are preventing the person from functioning normally, then it may be necessary to seek treatment.

Treatment:  An overactive bladder is not typically treated with surgery. It’s treated first with medication.

“The medications we typically use are bladder anti-spasmodics, which help to relax the bladder so the patient doesn’t feel the urge to urinate all of the time,” Dr. Lindo said.

Another method of treating an overactive bladder would be for the patient to undergo pelvic floor physical therapy, which essentially retrains the bladder muscles to better control the urine that is leaving the body.

“The pelvic floor physical therapy involves having time to void,” she said. “So, instead of running to the bathroom every few minutes, you’re actually waiting to go. And each time you’re waiting a little longer.”

This training is done with a physical therapist who is specifically trained in the area of the pelvic floor and the muscles that help with bladder control.

And if medication and physical therapy have failed, doctors may suggest the insertion of a bladder pacemaker.

“By stimulating the sacral nerves [the pacemaker] helps to improve bladder control,” Dr. Lindo said.

Issue 3: Stress Urinary Incontinence

Symptoms: “With stress incontinence, people lose urine when they laugh, cough, sneeze, walk up stairs, exercise or pick up something heavy.”

Treatment: Pelvic floor physical therapy can also be helpful in the treatment of stress incontinence. Lifestyle modifications like weight loss and a healthy diet are also important. However, the primary treatment is the surgical placement of a mid-urethral sling. For elderly patients or those who are not good surgical candidates, there is also something called periurethral bulking, where the opening from the bladder to the outside is made smaller.

Issue 4: Urinary Retention

Symptoms: People with urinary retention aren’t able to empty their bladder completely when they go to the bathroom. Depending on the cause of this bladder issue, the sufferer may not even realize that their bladder is not completely empty. Sometimes they feel pain or pressure in their lower abdomen and may even have bloating.

“In that group of patients, another symptom might be constant leakage,” Dr. Larsen said. “Not leakage associated with the urge to urinate, but more leaking urine throughout the day.”

Treatment: Because there are so many different causes for the urinary retention, it is best to be evaluated by a doctor, so that he or she may be able to decide what is best for the individual patient.

Common treatments associated with urinary retention could be anything from the insertion of a catheter, surgery for an enlarged prostate or to lift a fallen bladder or rectum.

While you will need to consult a physician on how to prevent your specific type of urinary retention, there are some ways to improve your chances of symptoms recurrence.

  • Avoid excessive use of alcohol.
  • If you feel the urge to go, don’t wait.
  • Try to void your bladder every couple of hours
  • Make sure you’re not rushing through bathroom time.

Issue 5: Bladder Pain

Symptoms: An irritated bladder can cause the affected person pain during or after urination. This could pain could be in the bladder or the surrounding area, including the pelvis.

While some of these cases can be attributed to infection or injury, there are some people who have this pain without a known cause, there could be other factors that contribute to pain in this area. Some scientists and physicians believe that there could be a link between bladder pain and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or even fibromyalgia.

Treatment: Because the cause for this type of bladder discomfort is largely unknown, it can sometimes be difficult to choose a treatment that will bring lasting relief.

But some physicians prescribe medication, bladder training or pelvic floor physical therapy, much like they would with other types of bladder issues. Your doctor will be able to decide what is best for you.

How can I prevent these bladder issues from occurring?

In all bladder issues, maintaining a healthy diet and body weight will help the person avoid infection, pain and other problems associated with poor bladder health.

For bladder infections in particular, one of the best ways to keep your risk of infection low, is to drink plenty of fluids.

“This is particularly true in elderly women,” Dr. Larsen said. “Women who are elderly tend to not drink enough fluids because they are worried about leaking, which ultimately leads to an infection.”

Along with maintaining overall good health by eating right, drinking plenty of fluids and exercising, it may also be helpful to perform Kegel exercises to strengthen your bladder muscles as well.

These exercises help to build up the muscles that will give you better control over urination output. To identify these muscles, try stopping your urine in midstream. These are the muscles you will want to focus on strengthening. Your doctor can assist you in doing these exercises correctly so that you are getting the desired results and avoiding injury.

Dr. Lindo and Dr. Larsen also recommend making changes to your diet in order to get some relief from bladder pain.

“Foods like high citrus-base foods, tomatoes, spicy foods, caffeine, and chocolate could be bladder irritants,” Dr. Lindo said. “Try to figure out what foods may be causing your bladder to be irritated.”

If you’re worried about the health of your bladder, call 1.844.BSWDOCS or find a physician in your area.

About the author

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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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5 most common bladder issues explained