10 Bladder Spasm Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options
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What is a bladder spasm? A bladder spasm is when the bladder muscles squeeze without warning & can force out urine. Learn about bladder spasm treatment & causes.
Bladder spasms symptoms
It may be easy to assume that bladder spasms can lead to an urge to urinate, the actual leakage of urine, or urinary incontinence. While these occurrences are likely, bladder spasms specifically refer to involuntary contractions of the muscle that controls the bladder, called the detrusor muscle.
Bladder spasms can also refer to an uncomfortable or painful cramping sensation in the bladder that doesn't result in the urge to urinate. Most commonly, bladder spasms leading to urinary urgency occur in older adults without a known underlying cause. However, there are some medical conditions that can lead to bladder spasms, including various spinal cord disorders, infection, or cancer. Bladder spasms and urinary incontinence are nota normal part of aging although they are common and anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention.
Common characteristics and accompanying symptoms of bladder spasms
Symptoms that can be associated with bladder spasms include:
3 causes of bladder spasms
Causes of bladder spasms are described from most to least common below. These may include bladder syndromes or neurologic problems, among others.
Bladder syndromes may cause bladder spasms, such as the following.
- Overactive bladder: Sometimes, people experience bladder contractions that lead to urgency (the feeling of needing to urinate) or a leakage of urine that cannot be controlled. These are known as involuntary bladder contractions. Sometimes, there is no known underlying cause for these contractions. Typically, this syndrome describes urinary spasms leading to the leakage of urine or urinary incontinence.
- Bladder pain syndrome: Bladder pain syndrome, which is also known as interstitial cystitis, is another cause of bladder spasms. This syndrome does not have a known underlying cause. The symptoms include persistent unpleasant sensations in the bladder and relief with urinating. Some people describe the sensation as pain, other people describe discomfort or pressure, and others describe a bladder spasm. The severity of the discomfort varies from day-to-day and from person-to-person. Typically, this sensation is not accompanied by urinary incontinence or leakage.
Issues with neurologic functioning may also lead to bladder spasms.
- Spinal cord injury: Traumatic injury to the spinal cord results in many different complications, including bladder dysfunction. Bladder control is complex and involves coordination between multiple parts of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves leading to the bladder. Spinal cord injury can disrupt the storage and emptying of urine, resulting in multiple different problems. One possible problem is hyperactivity of the muscle that controls bladder emptying, leading to spasms and possible leakage of urine or urinary incontinence.
- Other spinal cord problems: Any spinal cord problem has the potential to lead to bladder dysfunction. One common spinal cord problem that leads to bladder dysfunction is multiple sclerosis (MS); however, any disease that affects the spinal cord can affect bladder function. People with MS may experience bladder spasms. These spasms can lead to urinary frequency and urgency and may lead to a leakage of urine or urinary incontinence at night.
Other, less common causes of bladder spasms may include:
- Infection: The urinary tract, which includes the bladder, ureters, and urethra, can become infected with bacteria. Typically, the symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) include pain or a burning sensation with urination, pain in the lower abdomen, and urinary frequency or urgency. However, people may also experience bladder spasms with urinary tract infections. These may or may not be associated with a leakage of urine or urinary incontinence.
- Bladder cancer: The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in the urine without pain. However, sometimes, bladder spasms causing urinary frequency or urgency are the main presenting symptom of bladder cancer. These symptoms may be present with or without urinary incontinence. These symptoms may be accompanied by fatigue, weight loss, or poor appetite.
Painful bladder syndrome (interstitial cystitis)
Painful bladder syndrome, also called interstitial cystitis or IC, is a chronic condition of pain and discomfort in the urinary system.
The cause is unknown. It may be an autoimmune disorder and is often found with fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, or vulvodynia (pain in the outer female organs.) Some researchers feel the condition may be linked to a history of abuse.
Painful bladder syndrome is more common in women than in men, but can happen to anyone.
Symptoms vary and may include pressure and discomfort in the lower abdomen; pain during sexual intercourse; bladder pain; and a frequent urge to urinate.
A medical provider should be seen for these symptoms, because painful bladder syndrome can interfere with quality of life and lead to depression.
Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; blood and urine tests; and sometimes cystoscopy. Women may have a pelvic examination and men may have a digital rectal examination.
There is no cure specifically for painful bladder syndrome, so treatment involves addressing the symptoms and making lifestyle changes.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), depressed mood, pelvis pain, arthralgias or myalgias
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Urge urinary incontinence
Incontinence is a medical condition which refers to a person's inability to control when they urinate. Urge incontinence refers to unintentional leakage right after feeling a sudden urge to urinate. This is caused by abnormal bladder contractions.
Top Symptoms: waking up regularly to pee at night, recurring problem with leaking urine, sudden urges to pee
Symptoms that always occur with urge urinary incontinence: recurring problem with leaking urine, sudden urges to pee
Mixed urinary incontinence
Incontinence is a medical condition which refers to a person's inability to control when they urinate. Incontinence can be due to stress or urge. Stress incontinence refers to unintentional leakage of urine caused by coughing, sneezing, laughing, or lifting something heavy, while urge incontinence refers to unintentional leakage right after feeling a sudden urge to urinate. Mixed incontinence is a combination of the two.
Top Symptoms: waking up regularly to pee at night, recurring problem with leaking urine, sudden urges to pee, urges to pee upon exertion or heavy breathing
Symptoms that always occur with mixed urinary incontinence: recurring problem with leaking urine
Bladder spasms treatments and relief
You should seek treatment without delay if you believe to have injured your spinal cord or are suffering from new incontinence or blood in your urine. Some at-home remedies are available for less severe cases; however, you should likely consult your physician sooner than later if the spasms become more frequent or persist.
A consult with your medical provider will likely be necessary. However, there are a few at-home remedies that may be helpful in dealing with bladder spasms.
- Exercises: Pelvic floor exercises are exercises for the muscles that help control emptying of the bladder. Sometimes, learning and performing these exercises on a regular basis can help prevent the leakage of urine or urinary incontinence when a bladder spasm occurs.
- Lifestyle modifications: Bladder training, which involves urinating at timed intervals and modifying liquid intake, can help with bladder overactivity and urinary incontinence. Other lifestyle modifications such as weight loss, smoking cessation, and prevention of constipation can help with overactive bladder and urinary incontinence.
- Incontinence pads: Pads or protective undergarments do not address the underlying cause of overactive bladder or urinary incontinence. Typically, physicians recommend seeking alternative management strategies as incontinence pads can be expensive, and chronic exposure to urine-soaked pads can lead to skin irritation and breakdown.
Medical professional treatments
Your physician may recommend the following to further treat your bladder spasms.
- Urine collection: If a physician suspects a urinary tract infection or bladder cancer, they will likely collect a urine sample for testing. Typically, you can collect the urine culture yourself, but a physician may recommend using a small tube through the urethra into the bladder to collect a sterile sample of urine (cystoscopy).
- Bladder pressure: If a physician suspects you may have a nerve or muscle problem that is causing your bladder spasms, they may do a test that can measure the pressure in the bladder to help diagnose the problem. Typically, this involves the insertion of a small, flexible tube through the urethra into the bladder.
- Oral medication: A physician may prescribe medication to assist with symptoms of bladder spasms and with leakage of urine or urinary incontinence. There are multiple different types of medications that can help with different causes of bladder spasms or urinary incontinence.
- Acupuncture: Traditional acupuncture or acupuncture combined with electrical stimulation may have some benefit for people with bladder overactivity and bladder spasms. Your physician may suggest you try these treatments on their own or in combination with other treatments.
- Medication injections: If oral medications do not work, some physicians recommend using an injection of medication directly into the bladder to help with bladder overactivity and bladder spasm. A small camera (cystoscope) will be passed through a catheter in the bladder, and the medication will be injected directly into the muscular wall of the bladder using this camera.
- Nerve stimulator: For some women with overactive bladders leading to bladder spasms and incontinence, a nerve stimulator that is implanted in the back can be an effective treatment. Typically, this treatment is reserved for situations where lifestyle modifications and medications have failed, and where urinary incontinence is a big problem.
Seek emergency treatment for the following
If you experience these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical care.
- New incontinence following trauma: You may have a spinal cord injury, especially if you are aware of any trauma or if your incontinence is accompanied by numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs.
- Blood in the urine: While there are many causes of blood in the urine, it may be the first sign of cancer in the bladder and warrants urgent medical evaluation.
Dr. Martin is an Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University where she majored in Human Biology, and received her MD from the University of Pennsylvania. She’s interested in Emergency Medical Services and Flight Medicine, and is currently a resident flight physician with Airlift Northwest. In her free time, she enjoys playing ultimate frisbee, cycling, rock climbing, and trail running!
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