Bladder Symptoms

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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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.

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.

What other symptoms might occur with bladder symptoms?

Bladder symptoms may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the urinary tract may also involve other body systems.

Kidney and ureter symptoms that may occur along with bladder symptoms

Bladder symptoms may accompany other symptoms affecting the kidneys and ureters including:

Other symptoms that may occur along with bladder symptoms

Bladder symptoms may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • General ill feeling
  • Loss of sensation
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Pain during sexual intercourse or ejaculation
  • Pain of the penis or testicles
  • Pins-and-needles (prickling) sensation
  • Swelling, especially of the lower legs
  • Unexplained weight loss

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, bladder symptoms may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Bloody or pink-colored urine (hematuria)

  • Change in mental status or sudden behavior change, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations and delusions

  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)

  • Not producing any urine, or an infant who does not produce the usual amount of wet diapers

  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing

  • Severe abdominal, pelvic or back pain

  • Severe nausea and vomiting

  • Trauma to the urinary tract

What causes bladder symptoms?

Bladder symptoms can be caused by conditions affecting nearby structures, infection, inflammation, injury, nervous system abnormalities, pregnancy, stones, and tumors.

Infectious and inflammatory causes of bladder symptoms

Bladder symptoms may be caused by infections or inflammatory conditions including:

Nervous system causes of bladder symptoms

Bladder symptoms can also be caused by nervous system abnormalities including:

  • Brain or spinal cord tumors

  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)

  • Parkinson’s disease (brain disorder that impairs movement and coordination)

  • Spina bifida (incomplete closure of the spine during development)

  • Spinal cord injury

  • Stroke

  • Traumatic brain injury

Other causes of bladder symptoms

Bladder symptoms can also be caused by other diseases, disorders or conditions including:

  • Adverse effect of medications

  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlargement of the prostate that occurs with age)

  • Benign tumors of the bladder or nearby structures

  • Bladder or urethral diverticulae (outpouchings)

  • Cancer of the bladder or nearby structures

  • Cystocele (bulging of the bladder into the vagina)

  • Intrinsic urethral sphincter deficiency (weakness of the muscles around the urethra)

  • Kidney or bladder stones

  • Overactive bladder syndrome

  • Pelvic floor dysfunction (tightness of the muscles forming the pelvic floor)

  • Pregnancy

  • Urethral stricture in men (narrowing of the urethra)

Serious or life-threatening causes of bladder symptoms

In some cases, bladder symptoms may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Pelvic trauma

  • Urosepsis (life-threatening bacterial infection of the blood complicating a urinary tract or prostate infection)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of bladder symptoms

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your bladder symptoms including:

  • What kinds of bladder symptoms are you having?

  • When did you first notice them?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

  • Is there anything that makes your symptoms better or worse?

  • Do you have any other medical conditions?

  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of bladder symptoms?

Because bladder symptoms can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Abscess (collection of pus) formation in or near the kidneys or in the prostate

  • Chronic or frequent urinary tract infections

  • Decreased bladder capacity

  • Kidney damage or failure

  • Ongoing or worsening symptoms

  • Scarring of the urinary tract

  • Spread of cancer

  • Spread of infection

  • Urosepsis

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 7
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Bladder diseases. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/bladderdiseases.html.
  2. Urinary incontinence. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/urinary-incontinence.html.
  3. 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.