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.

However, some people experience this pressure constantly, and it may feel like an ache. This is not normal and is likely caused by interstitial cystitis. This condition is sometimes known simply as 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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Women are twice as affected by intersitial cystitis as men.

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.

Researchers suspect that in people who experience persistent bladder pressure, signals to urinate are sent more frequently than necessary.

Other causes of persistent bladder pressure can include:

  • allergies
  • infections
  • genetics
  • damage to the bladder lining
  • reactions of the immune system

Risk factors

Contributing factors can increase the risk of developing interstitial cystitis.

The condition is more common in adults than children, for example. Also, twice as many women have interstitial cystitis than men, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in the United States.

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.

The most notable symptom of interstitial cystitis is bladder pressure or pain, which can range from mild to severe. The pain or pressure may also be constant, or it may fade and return.

Other symptoms of interstitial cystitis may include:

  • a constant urge to urinate
  • pain during sex
  • pelvic discomfort
  • frequent, low-volume urination throughout the day

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, and these should not be ignored. They include:

  • bloody, smelly, or cloudy urine
  • burning or pain during urination
  • an urgent need to urinate
  • a low fever

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

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A doctor may use a urine test to help rule out a urinary tract infection.

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 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 sample of tissue 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
  • antihistamine medication to help with urgency
  • 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 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.

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Wearing loose-fitting clothing may help to reduce pressure on the bladder.

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:

  • caffeinated beverages
  • foods rich in vitamin C
  • alcoholic beverages
  • artificial sweeteners
  • pickled foods
  • fizzy drinks
  • citrus fruits

A person may want to identify triggers of bladder pressure specific to them. It may help to keep a record of 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

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.