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What does a damaged bladder feel like?

A damaged or unhealthy bladder can cause a variety of symptoms and discomforts. Recognizing the signs of bladder damage is important for getting the right treatment. Here is an overview of what a damaged bladder may feel like.

Frequent urination

One of the most common signs of a damaged bladder is needing to urinate much more frequently than normal. This includes:

  • Needing to urinate more than 8 times in 24 hours
  • Waking up multiple times at night to go to the bathroom
  • Feeling a sudden, urgent need to urinate that is difficult to control

Frequent urination can indicate an infection, bladder stones, an overactive bladder muscle, or a problem with the nerves that control the bladder. The urgency and frequency often get worse over time if the underlying problem is not treated.

Pain or discomfort

A damaged bladder may cause pain or discomfort in the pelvic region, lower abdomen, or lower back. You may experience:

  • A constant dull ache or pressure
  • Sharp pain when the bladder is full
  • Burning pain when urinating
  • Cramps and spasms in the bladder or pelvic floor muscles

The pain may be mild and come and go. Or, it can become severe if the bladder condition worsens. Pain with urination is usually a sign of an infection. Chronic bladder pain often results from damage to the bladder wall, nerves, or muscles.

Leakage or incontinence

Uncontrolled leakage of urine is another sign of a bladder problem. This lack of bladder control is called urinary incontinence. Types of incontinence linked to bladder damage include:

  • Stress incontinence – Leaking urine when you sneeze, cough, laugh, exercise or lift something heavy. Weak pelvic floor muscles often contribute to stress incontinence.
  • Urge incontinence – Sudden leakage of urine when you feel the urge to go. An overactive bladder causes urge incontinence.
  • Overflow incontinence – Chronic leakage or dribbling of urine. This happens when the bladder does not empty all the way.

Incontinence can range from mild to severe. Mild cases may be occasional leakage of just a few drops. Severe cases can involve constantly leaking urine or not being able to hold any urine at all.

Trouble emptying the bladder

Bladder damage can make it difficult to empty the bladder fully. Signs of trouble emptying the bladder include:

  • A weak urine stream
  • Straining or pushing to urinate
  • Dribbling at the end of urination
  • Feeling like the bladder is still full after using the bathroom

Incomplete emptying allows urine to pool in the bladder, leaving you prone to infections. It’s usually caused by bladder muscle problems, nerve damage, or blockage from bladder stones, a tumor, or enlarged prostate.

Blood in the urine

Blood in the urine, also called hematuria, can indicate damage to the lining of the bladder or other parts of the urinary tract. You may notice:

  • Pink, red or brownish urine
  • Cloudy urine with a red or brown tinge

Large amounts of blood can also clot and cause painful urination. Causes of blood in the urine include infections, cysts, stones, and tumors.

Foul-smelling urine

Urine smells a bit stronger when it’s more concentrated, such as when you just wake up. But a truly foul, pungent odor to your urine could mean you have an infection in your urinary tract or bladder.

Bacteria from the infection create an ammonia-like odor. Cloudy or murky urine may also develop. Without treatment, the infection can worsen and also cause pain and a frequent need to urinate.

Other symptoms

Sometimes a damaged bladder produces no obvious urinary symptoms. Instead, it may cause:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Generally feeling unwell and fatigued
  • Low-grade fever
  • Chills

These vague symptoms often develop if the bladder infection spreads to the kidneys. This is called pyelonephritis. Serious kidney infections require prompt medical treatment.

What causes bladder damage?

Conditions that can harm the bladder include:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Bladder stones
  • Bladder tumors or cancer
  • Nerve problems, like diabetes or multiple sclerosis
  • Physical blockages from an enlarged prostate, cysts, pregnancy, etc.
  • Chronic bladder inflammation (interstitial cystitis)
  • Radiation treatment or chemotherapy
  • Pelvic surgery

Risk factors that raise your chances of bladder problems include:

  • Older age
  • Being female
  • Menopause
  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Chronic constipation or straining
  • Diet high in processed foods, fat, and sugar
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Impaired mobility

When to see a doctor

Seek medical care if you experience any signs of a bladder problem. Early treatment gives you the best chance for a full recovery and prevents complications. Seek emergency care for:

  • Fever over 102°F (38.9°C) with abdominal or back pain
  • Inability to urinate at all
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Weakness, confusion or other concerning symptoms
  • Large amounts of blood in the urine

Even mild bladder symptoms that persist or come back repeatedly warrant a visit to your doctor. Left untreated, many bladder conditions worsen over time.

Diagnosing bladder damage

Your doctor will start by asking about your symptoms, medical history, and any medications or supplements you take. A physical exam checks for signs of infection or other problems.

Tests used to diagnose bladder conditions include:

  • Urinalysis – Checks a urine sample for blood, bacteria, white blood cells, and other signs of infection or inflammation.
  • Urine culture – Cultures any bacteria from a urine sample so the proper antibiotic can be selected.
  • Cystoscopy – Uses a tiny camera on the end of a flexible tube to directly view the bladder lining and check for tumors, stones and other abnormalities.
  • Imaging tests – Ultrasounds, CT scans and MRIs provide detailed views of the bladder and urinary tract.
  • Urodynamic testing – Measures bladder pressure and urine flow. Checks for weak muscles or nerve problems.
  • Biopsy – Takes a small sample of bladder tissue to test for cancer cells.

Based on test results, your doctor determines the cause and extent of bladder damage. Treatment can then target the specific problem.

Treatments for a damaged bladder

Treatments for a damaged bladder depend on the underlying cause. Options may include:

  • Antibiotics – Prescribed for bacterial infections.
  • Medications – Overactive bladders are often treated with anticholinergics or alpha-blockers. Tricyclic antidepressants help chronic bladder pain.
  • Surgery – Some cases require surgery to remove bladder tumors/stones, unblock obstructions, or increase bladder capacity.
  • Nerve stimulation – Electric pulses or nerve blocks treat urge incontinence and chronic pain.
  • Diet changes – Avoiding bladder irritants like caffeine, alcohol, citrus and carbonated drinks.
  • Pelvic floor therapy – Exercises can strengthen pelvic muscles, improving bladder control.
  • Timed voiding – Scheduled bathroom trips can help retrain a damaged bladder.

Treatment focuses on resolving the underlying problem, managing bothersome symptoms, and preventing recurrence or worsening of bladder damage.

Preventing bladder damage

To help maintain bladder health:

  • Drink plenty of fluids daily.
  • Urinate as soon as the need arises, don’t hold it.
  • Keep the genital area clean.
  • Wipe front to back after using the toilet.
  • Completely empty the bladder when urinating.
  • Stay at a healthy weight.
  • Control chronic conditions like diabetes.
  • Do Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor.
  • Avoid tobacco products and limit irritating foods/drinks.

Seeking prompt treatment for any urinary symptoms can prevent lasting bladder damage. Talk to your doctor about ways to keep your bladder as healthy as possible.

Living with a damaged bladder

It’s certainly possible to enjoy a good quality of life even with a damaged bladder. Helpful tips include:

  • Closely follow your treatment plan.
  • Note and avoid triggers that worsen symptoms.
  • Time fluid intake to minimize urgency and leaks.
  • Carry extra clothes and absorbent products when out.
  • Plan routes with convenient restroom stops.
  • Join a support group to share advice and coping strategies.
  • Communicate openly with loved ones.
  • Focus on controlling what you can and accepting what you can’t.

While damaged bladders may require some lifestyle adaptations, today’s treatments provide hope for managing symptoms successfully over the long-term.

When to seek a second opinion

It’s reasonable to get a second opinion for a damaged bladder if:

  • Your symptoms are not improving with treatment.
  • You experience worrying side effects from medications.
  • You are told you require major surgery.
  • Your doctor is unable to pinpoint the specific cause.
  • Your insurance requires a second opinion before covering treatment.
  • You have doubts or concerns about your doctor’s advice.
  • You would like a new perspective from an expert in bladder disorders.

Look for a second doctor who specializes in treating bladder conditions. Large teaching hospitals, university medical centers, and major clinics often have dedicated pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery departments. It’s ideal to bring copies of your medical records, test results and images to the second consultation.


A damaged bladder can markedly disrupt day-to-day life. Common signs like frequent urination, incontinence and pain signal a problem with bladder health. While some bladder conditions have no definitive cure, today’s treatments can still provide effective symptom relief and prevent lasting harm to the urinary tract. Being attuned to your body and speaking up when you notice bladder changes allows for the earliest diagnosis and treatment.