Bladder pressure is usually a sign that a person needs to urinate. But, it can also indicate an underlying health condition, such as interstitial cystitis.

People often refer to interstitial cystitis as painful bladder syndrome or bladder pain syndrome.

Here, we look at the causes of interstitial cystitis and symptoms that may accompany pressure on the bladder. We also discuss treatment options and prevention tips.

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The most notable interstitial cystitis symptom is bladder pressure or pain. The pain or pressure may also be constant, or it may fade and return.

Other symptoms of interstitial cystitis may include:

A person may easily mistake interstitial cystitis for a urinary tract infection because many symptoms are similar.

However, urinary tract infections can also cause different symptoms, which should not be ignored. They include:

Anyone who suspects that they have a urinary tract infection should see a doctor.

The medical community is unsure what causes interstitial cystitis or the bladder pressure involved.

Usually, as the bladder fills up, it sends signals to the brain, telling it to use the bathroom. The body interprets this communication as the need to urinate. In interstitial cystitis, these communications may not occur as they should, causing symptoms.

Other causes of persistent bladder pressure can include:

Risk factors

Contributing factors can increase the risk of developing interstitial cystitis. The condition is more common in older adults, for example, and symptoms often worsen with age. Also, twice as many women have interstitial cystitis than men.

The presence of other health conditions may increase the likelihood of developing persistent bladder pressure. These conditions include chronic pain or fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome.

A person with lasting bladder pressure should see a doctor who can rule out a urinary tract infection and diagnose interstitial cystitis.

The doctor will likely test a urine sample and examine the pelvic region. If the doctor detects no infection, they will often perform a physical exam and ask the person to record:

  • how many beverages they drink in a day
  • how often do they urinate
  • whether they experience pain or discomfort during or before urination

Bring this log to a follow-up appointment. After reviewing it, the doctor may order one or more of the following tests:

  • a cystoscopy, in which a thin tube carrying a camera is inserted into the bladder
  • a urine cytology test, which shows whether abnormal cells are in the urine
  • urodynamic studies, which measure pressure as the bladder fills and empties

A doctor may also collect a tissue sample from the lining of the bladder to rule out cancer.

Treatment of bladder pressure often varies from person to person. A person may discuss the following options with their doctor:

  • physical therapy
  • pentosan polysulfate sodium, which may block irritants in urine
  • tricyclic antidepressants, which can relax the bladder
  • over-the-counter pain medications
  • surgery, in rare cases

Some medicines may be inserted directly into the bladder.

Below are two additional therapies that may help with interstitial cystitis.

Bladder distension

Bladder distension is used to diagnose interstitial cystitis. With the person under anesthesia, a doctor will fill the bladder with air, which can increase the capacity for urine.

Nerve stimulation

A doctor may recommend transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation to relieve pain and urgency.

This procedure helps to strengthen the muscles around the bladder and can keep impulses sent from the bladder to the brain under control. It is not effective in all patients, however.

Basic lifestyle changes can prevent persistent bladder pressure.

The best tip is to avoid foods and drinks that trigger these feelings of pressure. While no link between diet and bladder pressure has been proven, research strongly suggests it.

It may help to avoid the following:

A person may want to identify triggers of bladder pressure specific to them. It may help to record each meal and whether the symptom was present.

A person may also reduce or prevent lasting bladder pressure by:

  • avoiding tobacco products
  • tracking urine output and training the body to urinate at specific times
  • wearing loose-fitting clothing
  • exercising regularly

A feeling of bladder pressure is a normal occurrence and typically indicates a person needs to urinate. However, prolonged or severe bladder pressure can indicate underlying health conditions, including interstitial cystitis.

Interstitial cystitis may last a lifetime, but treatments can help to relieve symptoms.

It is essential that people with persistent bladder pressure seek diagnosis and treatment. If left untreated, interstitial cystitis can lead to further complications.

See a doctor as soon as possible to rule out the presence of infections or more severe conditions.