What do bladder spasms feel like?
If your bladder is healthy, it will slowly fill with urine and once it is about half full, you’ll get the signal that it’s time for you to keep an eye out for a toilet. If you have bladder spasms, this usually slow and controlled urge to pee, comes on very strongly and suddenly. Why? It’s super simple, really! Your bladder contracts, forcing any urine in your bladder to leave your body. The spasm itself feels just like a cramping pain. If you’re a woman, it might remind you a bit of the cramps you experience during your period or your contractions if you have given birth before.
If your bladder spasms are caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI) you might experience the following symptoms:
- A burning sensation when peeing
- Only passing tiny amounts of urine when you go to the loo
- Your pee might be pink, red or cloudy and smells strong
- You might experience pelvic pain
If your bladder spasms are caused by urge incontinence you might also experience the following symptoms in addition:
- Going to the loo 8 times or more during the day
- Waking up twice or more in the middle of the night because you have to pee
- Leaking before you manage to reach the nearest toilet
Who’s most at risk of developing bladder spasms?
First off, it’s important to know that everyone can have bladder spasms, no matter how old or young. As with everything else, however, there are certain people who are at greater risk. You are more likely to suffer from bladder spasms if:
- You are elderly
- You suffer from diabetes
- You are overweight or obese
- You are currently going through menopause
- You are currently pregnant or recently had a baby
- You are currently suffering from a UTI
- You have had surgery in your pelvic or lower abdominal region
- Your bladder muscle was damaged by disease or injury
- You suffer from a neurological problem like a spinal cord injury or a stroke
What causes bladder spasms?
There are many different reasons why you might be experiencing bladder spasms. It could be something super simple like food or drink or a medication you’ve just started. They could also start due to problems with the nerves that signal your brain that you need to pee. Among the most common causes are:
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Catheters: If you’re living with an indwelling urinary catheter, chances are that you’ll experience bladder spasms at one point or another. Generally, that is because your body is trying to pass the little balloon that’s holding your catheter inside your bladder.
- Interstitial cystitis (IC): This is also called painful bladder syndrome and means that you experience unexplained bladder and urinary pain.
Certain illnesses that affect your nervous system will disrupt the signals between your brain and your bladder. You will experience something that’s called a neurogenic bladder which can lead to bladder spasms. Some of the most common conditions to cause this are:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Injuries to the spinal cord
- Brain tumors
- Herpes zoster if it affects the scrotum
- Brain damage, for example caused by a stroke
Surgery is also among the most common reasons why you might start to experience bladder spasms. These types of surgery include:
- Bladder surgery
- Hysterectomy: Your uterus and sometimes your ovaries and fallopian tubes are removed during this procedure
- Removal of your prostate (Prostatectomy)
If you happen to have a sensitive bladder in general, certain food and drink can be the cause for your painful bladder issues. The following are among the most common foods to cause bladder spasms:
- Alcoholic and caffeinated beverages
- Anything pickled
- Tomatoes and tomato-based foods
- Citrus fruits and drinks
- Artificial sweeteners
How the cause for bladder spasms is diagnosed?
Before running any specific tests, your GP will probably try to rule out certain things by looking at your medical history and any medications you are currently taking. If it looks like you might be suffering from a UTI, they’ll likely check a urine sample for blood, bacteria, or any other signs of infection. If none of these examinations confirm the reason for your bladder spasms, your doctor can run tests to see how much pee is still left in your bladder after you went to the loo, measure with which speed you pee, and look at your bladder pressure. If all of the tests are inconclusive, there are also options that test the reflexes and check that there are no sensory issues. After the cause of your bladder spasms has been found, your doctor will likely work on a treatment plan with you.
How bladder spasms are treated
How your bladder spasms will be treated is entirely dependent on what’s causing them and, more often than not, it will be a combination of multiple treatments. But let’s look at some of the options out there.
Change in diet
If your spasms are caused by certain foods and drinks, your GP might suggest that you make small changes to your diet. A food diary can be super helpful for this kind of thing as it will help you keep track of which foods and drinks worsen your symptoms. That way you’ll know exactly what to cut out!
Timing your toilet trips
This type of therapy usually involves you going to the toilet every 1.5 to 2 hours and is often very successful in treating bladder spasms in children. As your situation is improving and you’re having fewer accidents you can keep longer times between toilet visits.
Pelvic floor exercises (“Kegels”)
These types of exercises help strengthen your pelvic floor which helps your body to hold on to urine. To do Kegels, simply tighten the muscles in your pelvic floor. How? Just squeeze them the same way as you would if you were trying to stop peeing or trying to not pass gas. Make sure you’re exercising the correct muscles, though, as exercising the wrong ones can put even more pressure on your bladder and might lead to accidents. If you’re not sure which muscles you should exercises, speak to your GP; they might be able to refer you to specialist.
Sedatives and pain medication
If your bladder spasms are caused by an indwelling catheter or you experience them after surgery your doctor might prescribe some painkillers or sedatives. And even though they’ll unlikely take away all the pain and discomfort you’re feeling they’ll make it much better.
If your bladder spasms are nerve-related Botox can be a good treatment for both children and adults. The Botox will be injected directly into the muscle wall of your bladder which will prevent your nerves from releasing the chemical that’s causing your bladder to contract.
Biofeedback is used to teach your brain how to control any body functions that are usually automated. Just like training your bladder, for example. Some doctors believe that a combination of bladder training and medicines work best to relieve your symptoms.
Can bladder spasms be prevented?
It’s important to know that bladder spasms aren’t entirely preventable, but you can follow some simple steps to reduce your chance of getting bladder spasms.
- Be mindful about how much you drink: Drinking too little will lead to your urine becoming concentrated which can irritate your bladder and make your symptoms worse.
- Reduce the amount of coffee and alcohol you drink: Caffeinated beverages and alcoholic drinks are well-known bladder irritants that will cause you to experience increased urgency.
- Exercise, exercise, exercise: Studies have shown that if you exercise approximately half an hour for 4-5 days a week you are much more likely to have good bladder control.
- Be mindful of your weight: Being overweight or obese puts pressure on your bladder increasing your risk of bladder spasms and incontinence.
- Reduce your stress levels: Stress is known to make symptoms of bladder spasms worse so it’s super important that you reduce your stress as much as possible. Make sure you get enough sleep and actively do things that make you feel relaxed. Try reading a book, knitting, mediating, or maybe try and go for a walk around the neighbourhood.