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Bladder spasms

Chances are we have all crossed our legs a time or two in hopes of making it to the closest toilet in time, but there's a big difference between having to go, and always feeling like you have to go. For those who live with bladder spasms, that feeling is a painful reality that can lead to embarrassing wetting accidents and an unwanted shift in lifestyle. However, there are a variety of treatment options available to manage the symptoms. Here's what you need to know about bladder spasms, from the causes, to what you can do to ease the pain.

What do bladder spasms feel like?

Normally, the bladder gently fills with urine and you slowly become aware of the need to urinate. This feeling is your cue to start looking for a toilet.

For people with bladder spasms the sensation occurs suddenly and often severely. A spasm itself is the sudden, involuntary squeezing of a muscle. A bladder spasm, or "detrusor contraction," occurs when the bladder muscle squeezes suddenly without warning, causing an urgent need to release urine. The spasm can force urine from the bladder, causing leakage. When this happens, the condition is called urge incontinence or overactive bladder.

People who have had such spasms describe them as a cramping pain and sometimes as a burning sensation. Some women with severe bladder spasms compared the muscle contractions to severe menstrual cramps and even labour pains experienced during childbirth.

Who is most likely to develop bladder spasms?

Anyone at any age can have bladder spasms. In children, bladder spasms (also called paediatric unstable bladder or uninhibited bladder) are the leading cause of daytime incontinence.

However, you are more likely to have bladder spasms with urine leakage if you:

  • Are elderly
  • Are going through the menopause
  • Recently had a baby or are pregnant
  • Have a urinary tract infection
  • Have recently had lower abdominal or pelvic surgery
  • Have nerve or bladder muscle damage caused by disease or injury

What causes bladder spasms?

There are a number of different causes of bladder spasms. The cramping pain could be due to something as simple as your diet or a medication that you are taking, or it could be associated with changes in blood supply and function of the nerves controlling the bladder.

However, bladder spasms may be the result of an infection or a recent operation, or they may occur if you have nerve or muscle damage. It's important to seek medical advice to determine the cause.

In some cases, it may not be possible to identify the cause. When this happens, the condition is called idiopathic bladder spasms.

Some common causes of bladder spasms are:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI): Bladder pain and burning are a common symptom of a UTI.
  • Interstitial cystitis (IC), also called painful bladder syndrome: this condition refers to bladder and urinary pain that is not due to other causes, such as a urinary tract infection. Pain is recurring and often severe.
  • Catheter use: A catheter is a thin tube used to drain urine from the body, often after surgery. It is placed into the urethra and up into your bladder. Bladder spasms are a common and sometimes distressing complication of catheter usage.
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