What are the signs of bladder problems?
The bladder is a muscular organ located behind and slightly above your pubic bone that stores urine until it is ready to be expelled from your body. Bladder symptoms can be caused by conditions affecting nearby structures, infection, inflammation, injury, kidney or bladder stones, nervous system abnormalities, and tumors. Common bladder symptoms include bloody or pink-colored urine (hematuria), cloudy urine, difficulty urinating, foul-smelling urine, frequent urination, leaking of urine (incontinence), lower abdominal or pelvic discomfort, pain or burning with urination, and urgent need to urinate.
Bladder infection, inflammation, tumors and stones may be difficult to distinguish from each other based on symptoms alone; they can all cause urgency, frequency, lower abdominal or pelvic discomfort, pain or burning with urination, and blood in the urine. Cloudy or foul-smelling urine occurs more frequently with infection. Bladder infections may spread to the kidneys, causing back or abdominal pain, and can cause additional symptoms, such as fever. Cancers of the bladder that have locally advanced can also cause back or abdominal pain and fever; as the cancers progress, weight loss, anemia, and lower leg swelling can occur.
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Tumors and stones in the bladder can act as plugs and can make it difficult to urinate. In men, the upper portion of the tube that drains the bladder (the urethra) is surrounded by the prostate, which can enlarge and interfere with urination. Infection and inflammation of the prostate can cause symptoms similar to those of a bladder infection.
Weakness of the pelvic muscles or of the muscles that surround the urethra can cause urine leakage. Incontinence can also occur as part of overactive bladder syndrome. Nervous system abnormalities, such as spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems), can cause urinary incontinence or difficulty initiating urination. Hormones associated with pregnancy and pressure on the bladder from the enlarging uterus can cause incontinence, as well as the need to urinate frequently.
Bladder infection, cancer and trauma can lead to life-threatening complications, including infections of the kidneys and bloodstream, cancer spread, and hemorrhage. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as change in level of consciousness; change in mental status; high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit); not producing any urine; severe abdominal, pelvic or back pain; severe nausea and vomiting; or uncontrolled or heavy bleeding.
If your bladder symptoms are persistent or cause you concern, seek prompt medical care.
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- Bladder diseases. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/bladderdiseases.html.
- Urinary incontinence. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/urinary-incontinence.html.
- Nickel JC, Tripp DA, Pontari M, et al. Interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome and associated medical conditions with an emphasis on irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. J Urol 2010; 184:1358.