The bladder collects and releases urine from the body. It is located towards the front of a person’s lower abdomen or pelvis and near their sexual organs.

When functioning normally, a person’s bladder will collect and expel urine regularly throughout the day. However, several conditions can cause the bladder to become uncomfortable, overactive, or experience other symptoms.

The following article describes the bladder’s function, several conditions that may cause bladder issues, tips for bladder health, and doctors to see for bladder issues if they arise.

The bladder is one of four parts of the urinary tract. The urinary tract’s function is to expel excess liquids and waste from the body.

The four parts of the urinary tract include:

  • Kidneys: These two bean-shaped organs filter blood to remove excess liquids and waste.
  • Ureters: These two small tubes connect the kidneys to the bladder.
  • Bladder: This muscular, balloon-shaped organ can hold about 2 cups of liquid before it needs to empty.
  • Urethra: This small tube connects the bladder to the outside and allows urine to exit the body.

As the bladder fills with urine from the kidneys, a person feels an increasing urge to urinate. A person usually has the ability to control their bladder.

When a person urinates, the muscles in their bladder contract, pushing the urine into the urethra. At the same time, the muscles around the urethra relax, which allows urine to pass from the bladder out of the body.

A person’s bladder can become infected, irritated, or damaged. This can cause discomfort, incontinence, pain, and other symptoms.

Click on the BodyMap above to interact with a 3D model of the bladder.

Several problems can affect a person’s bladder. When they occur, a person may experience symptoms that affect the bladder, the urinary tract as a whole, or other parts of the body. Some common conditions that affect the bladder include:

Urinary tract infection

One of the most common causes of bladder pain is a urinary tract infection (UTI). A UTI occurs when bacteria enter the bladder via the urethra and causes an infection. A UTI can cause symptoms such as pain in the bladder, frequent urination, and a burning sensation during urination. Though it can affect all people, those assigned female at birth have a higher chance of developing a UTI than others.

Incontinence

Some people lose part or all of their ability to control when urine comes out. This is known as incontinence. Though several conditions can cause incontinence, it occurs when the muscles around the urethra relax without warning, resulting in the person leaking urine. Similar to UTIs, people assigned female at birth experience urinary incontinence more than others. Older individuals also have a higher risk of developing the condition.

Bladder pain syndrome

Some people may develop a chronic condition known as bladder pain syndrome or interstitial cystitis. The symptoms of bladder pain syndrome are similar to a UTI, but it does not respond to antibiotics like a UTI does. White people assigned female at birth have a higher incidence rate of bladder pain syndrome than other races or sexes.

Bladder stones

Bladder stones are small deposits of minerals that have built up into stone-like shapes inside of the urinary bladder. The deposits may be calcified, but uric acid accounts for at least 50% of formed stones. They often form due to a person having trouble emptying their bladder. They may or may not cause symptoms in a person, including a weak urine stream, pain or discomfort, or small amount of blood in the urine.

Bladder cancer

Bladder cancer occurs when cells in the bladder begin to grow out of control. Bladder cancer often causes blood in the urine that can be seen in a urine test. Rare but possible bladder cancer symptoms also include changes in urine frequency and pain while urinating.

Overactive bladder

An overactive bladder is not a medical condition itself. Instead, it is the name given to a group of symptoms. The symptoms often include frequent, urgent need to urinate as well as leaking urine.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a condition in which cells from the lining of the uterus attach to other organs or tissue outside the uterus. When they attach to or around the bladder, it can cause a person to experience bladder pain or other issues related to urination.

Irritable bowel syndrome and other bowel issues

According to a 2018 review, the bowels and bladder share a connection with each other. Often, conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and painful bladder syndrome occur together and cause similar symptoms.

As people age, their bladder changes, and the risk of developing bladder conditions increases. A person can take some steps to help reduce the risk of developing issues with their bladder. To help maintain their bladder, a person can try to:

  • limiting alcohol and caffeine
  • drinking plenty of fluids during the day
  • avoiding smoking
  • taking steps to avoid constipation, including eating a high fiber diet
  • exercising regularly
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • using the bathroom at least once every 3 to 4 hours
  • practicing pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels, regularly to help prevent urine leaks
  • trying to relax during urination
  • fully emptying the bladder during urination
  • wearing cotton underwear and loose fitting clothing
  • wiping front to back
  • urinating after sexual intercourse

Read also about foods for bladder health.

Bladder pain or discomfort, blood in urine, or urinary leaking are symptoms to report to a healthcare professional. They can help diagnose and treat any underlying condition causing bladder symptoms.

In many cases, a person may find going to their primary care doctor is a good place to start. Some insurances also require a referral to a specialist from a primary care doctor.

Some doctors specialize in bladder health. Specialists include:

  • Urologists: Urologists specialize in treating urological conditions, such as UTIs, kidney stones, and other conditions of the urinary tract. They often form the head of a treatment team when a person has a condition affecting their urinary tract.
  • Oncologist: A urologist or primary care doctor may refer a person to an oncologist to help with cancer detection and treatment.
  • Gynecologist: A gynecologist specializes in female reproductive organs and may be able to help with certain issues that can affect the bladder.
  • Urogynecologist: A urogynecologist specializes in female pelvic medicine and reproductive surgery, including surgery to treat stress urinary incontinence.

The bladder forms the part of the urinary tract that collects and expels urine. Several conditions can cause a person to experience pain, discomfort, leaking urine, or other symptoms. When a person experiences symptoms, they should connect with their healthcare professional to check for and treat any underlying condition.

For some conditions, a person may be referred to a specialist, such as a urologist, gynecologist, urogynecologist, or oncologist. Many options are available to treat bladder problems and improve a person’s quality of life.