The bladder is an important part of your urinary tract system. It is located in the pelvis, above and behind the pubic bone. Urine is made in the kidneys and travels to the bladder through a pair of tubes called ureters. The bladder stores urine until it receives signals from the body to empty. Urine then exits the bladder through the urethra. Various conditions involving the bladder and urethra can cause the sensation of pressure or discomfort over your bladder.
Urinary tract infections are common in women, although they may also occur in men. About one-half of all women will have at least 1 urinary tract infection in their lifetime, according to an article published in “American Family Physician” in October 2011. Inflammation from a bladder infection causes swelling within the bladder lining or wall, triggering a sensation of pressure. Other symptoms can include burning with urination, increased frequency of urination and even leakage of urine. Bladder infections are caused by bacteria and are usually effectively treated with antibiotics.
Some people experience symptoms of a bladder infection, but they do not have an actual infection. This occurs in a condition known as interstitial cystitis, the exact cause of which is unknown. Many people with this condition will have discomfort not only over the bladder area but also throughout the pelvis and sometimes even in the lower back. Antibiotics are not effective for interstitial cystitis. Treatments may include medications taken by mouth, such as amitriptyline, cimetidine and pentosan polysulfate. Medications inserted into the bladder through the urethra, such as heparin and lidocaine, may also be used. Avoiding situations that trigger symptoms may be helpful. Triggers can vary from person to person, but may include stress, consuming citrus fruits or coffee, or performing Kegel exercises -- exercises used to strengthen pelvic muscles.
Any condition that blocks the flow of urine out of the bladder can trigger the sensation of pressure over the area. This backup of urine, called urinary retention, causes the bladder to become overly full or stretched. Urinary retention may result from growths or tumors in the bladder, depending on their location. Kidney stones can also produce urinary retention if they become trapped in the urethra.
The prostate is a walnut-sized organ in men located around the urethra. If the prostate becomes enlarged, it can squeeze on the urethra, partially blocking the exit of urine from the bladder. Infection of the prostate, known as prostatitis, is a common cause of urinary retention. Prostate cancer or noncancerous enlargement of the prostate, known as benign prostatic hypertrophy, are other possible causes.
Bladder discomfort can be caused by organs near the bladder. Pregnancy is a common culprit. The uterus, which is located above the bladder, grows in size over the course of the pregnancy and exerts direct pressure over the bladder. Tumors in the abdomen and pelvis can have a similar effect if they press on the bladder. These may include tumors in the colon, ovaries or uterus.
Seeking Medical Attention
See your doctor if your bladder pressure or discomfort continues to worsen or fails to resolve with time. Seek prompt medical care if you notice symptoms of a bladder infection plus a high fever, back pain, nausea or vomiting. These additional symptoms may indicate that the infection has travelled from the bladder up to your kidneys. Also obtain prompt medical attention if you are unable to pass urine, as this suggests that there is a blockage in the lower part of your bladder or urethra.
Reviewed and revised by: Mary D. Daley, M.D.