The bladder sits in the center of the pelvis. If a person feels pain in the lower right or left abdomen, it is less likely to relate to the bladder and may signal kidney stones instead.
In this article, we look at the possible causes and treatment of bladder pain.
Interstitial cystitis is also called bladder pain syndrome (BPS). Doctors most commonly diagnose interstitial cystitis in people over the age of 40 years. The condition is more common in females than males.
Typical symptoms of interstitial cystitis include:
- bladder pain that may accompany a sensation of pressure
- pelvic pain
- pain while urinating
- difficulty urinating
- urinating more frequently
- having an urgent need to urinate
When interstitial cystitis first occurs, a person tends to experience just one of these symptoms. As it progresses, they may develop more symptoms.
It is typically a long-term condition, meaning that there is no cure. People may experience flare-ups, during which their symptoms get worse for several hours, days, or weeks at a time.
Doctors do not know what causes interstitial cystitis. Each person can have different triggers, or factors that cause flare-ups. However, some common triggers include:
- doing pelvic floor exercises
- wearing tight clothing
- being constipated
- having sex
- drinking coffee
- drinking citrus beverages
It is usually possible to manage the symptoms, and different methods work for different people.
For example, some people benefit from restricting the amount of fluid that they drink, while others feel better when they stay more hydrated.
A healthcare professional may recommend an over-the-counter medicine to help an individual cope with flare-ups.
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection of the urinary tract, which includes the urethra, bladder, and kidneys. Most UTIs affect the bladder, and they are more common in females than males.
The symptoms of a UTI include:
- a burning pain while urinating
- a frequent or urgent urge to urinate despite having little urine to pass
Bacteria are responsible for UTIs, so doctors will usually prescribe antibiotics to treat them. A doctor will provide advice on suitable types of antibiotic and the required length of treatment.
People can also explore ways to treat a UTI without antibiotics.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases advise people to drink plenty of water to speed the healing process. A heating pad on the back or abdomen may help ease the pain arising from a bladder infection.
Many people with kidney stones do not experience any symptoms, but the stones can sometimes lead to bladder pain.
Kidney stones consist of the undissolved minerals and salts that occur in urine. They start small but can grow bigger. When they stay inside the kidney, they do not tend to cause any problems.
In some cases, they will travel to the bladder through the urethra and leave the body in the urine. Again, this does not usually cause problems.
Sometimes, these stones can become stuck in the urethra, which is the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder. When this occurs, it blocks the flow of urine and can be very painful.
The main symptom is a pain in the back and on the left or right side that can move to the lower tummy or groin. It tends to start suddenly and come in waves. People often describe the pain as sharp and cramping.
Other common symptoms of kidney stones include:
- pain while urinating
- urinating more often
- dark or red urine
- nausea and vomiting
Males with kidney stones may also feel pain at the tip of the penis.
Treatment will depend on the type of stone, the severity of the blockage, and the specific symptoms.
If the stones are small, a doctor will usually advise the individual to wait for them to pass. It is generally safe to wait between 4 and 6 weeks for a kidney stone to pass by itself if there is no infection and no sign of complete blockage.
Some medicines can help kidney stones pass in the urine by relaxing the urethra. Tamsulosin is the drug that doctors prescribe most often for this purpose.
A doctor may recommend surgery if the stone does not pass, causes unbearable pain, or affects the function of the kidneys.
The type of surgery will depend on several factors. Surgical methods tend to involve either a small cut or no cut at all, which leads to minimal pain and a relatively quick recovery time.
Interstitial cystitis, UTIs, and bladder cancer can cause pain in the bladder, or the center of the lower abdomen. Kidney stones can also cause pain in the lower left, right, or central abdomen.
The outlook for someone with bladder pain will very much depend on the cause of the problem.
Interstitial cystitis is a chronic, long-term condition, meaning that there is no cure. With the right support and lifestyle changes, however, people can usually manage their symptoms well.
A doctor will usually recommend antibiotics to treat UTIs. Drinking enough water, wearing loose-fitting clothing, and always urinating at the first urge can all help prevent UTIs from returning.
The outlook for a person with bladder cancer will depend on the type of cancer as well as how advanced it is. In general, the earlier the diagnosis occurs, the better. For this reason, it is vital that a person seeks medical advice if they are experiencing symptoms.
People who have had kidney stones can sometimes prevent them from returning by drinking plenty of water and reducing the amount of salt in their diet. Eating more fruits and vegetables and less meat will also help.
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