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Bladder Health Month Week 2: Bladder infections, painful bladder, and neurogenic bladder

Woman lying on side on bed hugging pillow to abdomen because of bladder pain

Welcome to Week 2 of Bladder Health Month! What’s up for this week? The things that can make your bladder (and you) very unhappy: Bladder Infections, Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome and Neurogenic Bladder.

What are Bladder Infections?

Bladder Infections are the most common type of urinary tract infection (UTI) in women. Each year, UTIs account for more than 4 million doctor visits. Women, men, and even kids can get UTI's, but women are 4x more likely than men to get one.

Women are more likely to get a UTI than men because women have shorter urethras, so bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to reach the bladder.

Source: National Association for Continence

What Causes Bladder Infections?

Bladder Infections typically occur when bacteria outside the body enter the urinary tract through the urethra and begin to multiply.

Because large numbers of bacteria live in the area around the vagina and rectum, and also on your skin, bacteria may get into the urine from the urethra and travel into the bladder.

Some factors that can add to your chances of getting a bladder infection are:

  • Menopause: women who have gone through menopause lose the protection that estrogen provides against UTIs, so may get infections more often

  • Birth control: women who use diaphragms have been found to have a higher risk of UTIs when compared to those who use other forms of birth control. Using condoms with spermicidal foam is also linked to greater risk of UTIs in women.

  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy may increase the risk of a bladder infection.

  • Catheter: indwelling catheters bring an increased risk of UTIs

Sources: Urology Care Foundation, Mayo Clinic, National Association for Continence

What are Symptoms of a Bladder Infection?

Urinary tract infections don't always cause signs and symptoms, but when they do they may include:

  • A strong, persistent urge to urinate

  • A burning sensation when urinating

  • Passing frequent, small amounts of urine

  • Blood in the urine

  • Passing cloudy or strong-smelling urine

  • Pelvic discomfort

  • A feeling of pressure in the lower abdomen

  • Low-grade fever

If you're experiencing these types of symptoms, a quick trip to your healthcare provider for a urine test is in order, to help rule in or out a bladder infection. Your healthcare provider will help decide if you need antibiotics to treat any infection present.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Pink neon sign in shape of arrow that says "Wash Room"
When your bladder just won't quit

What is Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome?

This is the "I feel like I have a bladder infection but I don't" syndrome. First, a few facts:

Interstitial Cystitis (also called IC):

  • is a condition which is part of a spectrum of diseases known as Painful Bladder Syndrome (PBS)

  • feels like a urinary tract infection (UTI) but there is no infection present

  • is a chronic condition causing bladder pressure, bladder pain and sometimes pelvic pain, ranging from mild discomfort to severe pain

  • effects between 3 to 8 million women and 1 to 4 million men in the U.S.

Source: Urology Care Foundation

What are symptoms of Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome?

Signs and symptoms include:

  • A persistent, urgent need to urinate

  • Pain or discomfort while the bladder fills and relief after urination

  • Frequent urination, often of small amounts, throughout the day and night (even up to 60 times a day)

  • Pain in your pelvis or between the vagina and anus in women

  • Pain between the scrotum and anus (perineum) in men

  • Chronic pelvic pain

  • Pain during sex

Source: Mayo Clinic

There are many treatments for Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome, including pelvic physical therapy. See below for more information about how pelvic PT can help. Another great resource for information about IC is The Interstitial Cystitis Association.

What is Neurogenic Bladder?

In people with neurogenic bladder, the nerves and muscles don't work together very well. As a result, the bladder may not fill or empty correctly.

Millions of Americans have neurogenic bladder. This includes people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's disease and spina bifida. It also could include people who have had a stroke, spinal cord injury , major pelvic surgery, diabetes or other illnesses.

What are Symptoms of Neurogenic Bladder?

According to Cleveland Clinic, the most common symptom of neurogenic bladder is being unable to control urination. Other symptoms include:

  • Frequent urination, urgency and/or leakage on the way to the bathroom (overactive bladder symptoms)

  • A weak or dribbling urinary stream (underactive bladder symptoms)

  • Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTI's)

You can learn more about this condition at the Urology Care Foundation.

sign which reads "and breathe"
Getting relief

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy and Bladder Infections, Interstitial Cystitis and Neurogenic Bladder

Often there are muscular issues related to repeated bladder discomfort, which is where pelvic floor physical therapy can help.

For instance, many of the urinary, bowel, or sexual symptoms people with interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome experience can be signs of pelvic floor muscle problems, including:

  • Urinary urgency, frequency, or hesitancy, stopping and starting, painful urination, or incomplete emptying

  • Constipation, straining, pain with bowel movements

  • Unexplained pain in your low back, pelvic region, genital area, or rectum

  • Pain during or after intercourse or orgasm

According to the Interstitial Cystitis Association: In patients who have IC or other pelvic pain conditions, the pelvic floor muscles may be tight or in spasm, have a combination of tightness and weakness, or have pain-triggering spots or knots called “trigger points.” Pain “referred” from internal organs, such as the bladder, may set off these muscle problems, but the muscle problems themselves can also set off bladder symptoms.

If you have been suffering from any of these bladder conditions, then in addition to seeing your physician, seeing a pelvic health physical therapist to release any pelvic floor muscle tension and pain can go a long way toward easing your pain and bladder symptoms.

What to do if you have bladder symptoms

Your first step if you are experiencing symptoms of recurrent bladder infections, interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome, and/or neurogenic bladder is to contact one of the many specialists who are equipped to assist you, including your primary care physician, OB-GYN, urogynecologist, and/or urologist.

Schedule a free virtual appointment with me. Pelvic physical therapy can be an effective part of treatment for many bladder conditions, including the symptoms that come with interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome and neurogenic bladder. Schedule a free consultation with me to find out if pelvic physical therapy is the right treatment for you. ‍😊

Stay tuned for Week 3 of Bladder Health Month...

In case you missed it: here is Week 1 of Bladder Health Month!

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About the Author:

Angela is the owner of My Pelvic Therapy, PLLC and a licensed physical therapist. Prior to starting her telehealth private practice, she worked as a senior physical therapist for 17 years at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL, specializing in helping women and men overcome their pelvic floor challenges. She received her physical therapy degree from Duke University, biology degree from University of Illinois, and is a lifelong learner of all things PT.

Contact her at You can also find Angela on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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