What Causes Bladder Spasms

Urinary bladder spasms occur when the bladder contracts involuntarily, which can cause a person to urinate. These spasms can be painful, and they may be embarrassing if they lead to an extreme urge to urinate or leakage of urine.

Everything You Need to Know About Bladder Spasms

Bladder spasms happen when your bladder muscles contract or tighten. If these contractions continue, it may cause an urge to urinate. Because of this, the term “bladder spasm” is often used synonymously with overactive bladder (OAB).

OAB is also known as urge incontinence. It’s characterized by an urgent need to empty your bladder and the involuntary leakage of urine. It’s important to understand that a bladder spasm is a symptom. OAB is typically the larger issue, though it can be caused by other things.

Bladder spasms can also be a symptom of infection. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are temporary infections that can cause burning, urgency, spasms, and pain. With treatment, these infections can clear up and your symptoms can virtually disappear.

Keep reading to learn more about what spasms are, how they’re managed, and what you can do to prevent them.

The most common symptom of bladder spasms is feeling an urgent need to urinate. The spasm may lead to leakage, or what is called incontinence.

If your bladder spasms are caused by a UTI, you may also experience the following:

  • burning sensation when you void your bladder
  • ability to pass only small amounts of urine each time you use the bathroom
  • urine that looks cloudy, red, or pink
  • urine that smells strong
  • pelvic pain

If your bladder spasms are the result of OAB or urge incontinence, you may also:

  • leak urine before reaching the bathroom
  • urinate often, up to eight or more times each day
  • wake two or more times during the night to urinate

Bladder spasms are more common as you age. That being said, having spasms isn’t necessarily a typical part of aging. They often indicate other health issues that, left untreated, can worsen over time.

In addition to UTIs and OAB, bladder spasms can be caused by:

  • constipation
  • drinking too much caffeine or alcohol
  • certain medications, such as bethanechol (Urecholine) and furosemide (Lasix)
  • diabetes
  • impaired kidney function
  • bladder stones
  • enlarged prostate
  • neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis
  • irritation from urinary catheter

If you have trouble walking, you may develop urgency if you’re unable to get to a restroom quickly enough to relieve yourself. You may also develop symptoms if you don’t fully empty your bladder when you use the bathroom.

If you have concerns about your urgency to go, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor. They can help get to the root of the issue, as well as develop an appropriate treatment plan for you.

Before running any tests, your doctor will assess your medical history and notes on any medications you’re taking. They’ll also perform a physical exam.

Afterward, your doctor may examine a sample of your urine to check for bacteria, blood, or other signs of infection. If infection is ruled out, there are several tests that can help diagnose bladder issues.

Some tests measure how much urine is left in your bladder after voiding. Others measure the speed of your urination. Some tests can even determine your bladder pressure.

If these tests aren’t pointing to a specific cause, your doctor may want to perform a neurological exam. This will allow them to check for different sensory issues and certain reflexes.

Exercise and changes in your lifestyle may help ease your bladder spasms. Medications are another treatment option.

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Exercise

Pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels, are often helpful in treating bladder spasms caused by stress and urge incontinence. To do a Kegel, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles as if you’re trying to stop the flow of urine from your body. If necessary, your doctor may refer you to a specialist so you can learn the proper technique.

Lifestyle changes

Certain lifestyle changes can help with bladder issues, such as changing your fluid intake and diet. To see if your spasms are tied to certain foods, try keeping a food diary. This can help you track any foods that may be causing bladder spasms.

Irritating foods and drinks often include:

  • citrus fruits
  • fruit juice
  • tomatoes and tomato-based foods
  • spicy foods
  • sugar and artificial sugars
  • chocolate
  • carbonated beverages
  • tea

You may also experiment with what’s called bladder training. This involves going to the toilet at timed intervals. Doing so can train your bladder to fill more fully, decreasing the number of times you need to urinate throughout the day.

Medication

Your doctor may prescribe one of these medications to help with bladder spasms:

  • antispasmodics, such as tolterodine (Detrol)
  • tricyclic antidepressants, such as desipramine (Norpramin)

Lifestyle changes and other treatments can help you manage and even lessen your bladder spasms. Symptoms tied to an underlying condition, such as an infection, should also respond well to treatment for that condition.

If your symptoms persist or worsen, you should consult your doctor. It may be necessary to switch up your treatment regimen or try a different medication.

Bladder spasms may not be entirely preventable, but they may be reduced if you follow these tips.

You should

  • Mind your fluid intake. Too much fluids may make you urinate more frequently. Too little may lead to concentrated urine, which can irritate your bladder.
  • Avoid drinking excess caffeine and alcohol. These beverages increase your need to urinate, leading to more urgency and frequency.
  • Move your body. People who exercise around half an hour most days of the week tend to have better bladder control.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight may put excess stress on your bladder, increasing your risk for incontinence.
  • Quit smoking. Coughing caused by smoking can also put added strain on your bladder.

Bladder spasms: Everything you need to know

Urinary bladder spasms occur when the bladder contracts involuntarily, which can cause a person to urinate. These spasms can be painful, and they may be embarrassing if they lead to an extreme urge to urinate or leakage of urine.

A variety of conditions can cause bladder spasms, but fortunately there are many treatments available.

In this article, learn what causes bladder spasms, how to prevent them, and how they relate to common bladder problems.

Bladder highlighted in 3D image of body, representing bladder spasms

One of the most common conditions associated with bladder spasms is called overactive bladder (OAB). This is known to occur in people with urge incontinence.

According to the Urology Care Foundation, associated with the American Urological Association, an estimated 30 percent of men and 40 percent of women in the United States experience symptoms of OAB.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) also frequently cause bladder spasms. UTIs occur when excess bacteria enter the urinary tract. In addition to bladder spasms, UTIs can cause pain in the lower abdomen, pelvis, back, and sides, as well as a fever, and a burning sensation when urinating.

Other causes of bladder spasms include:

  • diabetes
  • an enlarged prostate
  • interstitial cystitis
  • multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • stroke

Some diuretic medications may also contribute to bladder spasms.

Share on Pinterest Bladder spasms may cause urine leakage or the need to urinate frequently.

Other symptoms of bladder spasms usually depend upon the underlying cause.

For example, additional OAB symptoms include:

  • leaking urine
  • frequent urges to urinate
  • regularly waking up one or more times to use the bathroom during the night
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People with autonomic disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or Alzheimer’s disease, may be more likely to have bladder spasms.

Autonomic disorders affect the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for bladder contractions. As a result, a person may experience uncontrolled bladder spasms.

Some symptoms of bladder spasms may mimic those of a UTI, even when an infection is not the underlying cause.

Doctors can prescribe a variety of medications to reduce the incidence of bladder spasms.

A doctor may first prescribe one of a group of medications called antimuscarinics. Examples include:

  • darifenacin (Enablex)
  • oxybutynin chloride (Ditropan)
  • extended-release oxybutynin (Ditropan XL)
  • solifenacin succinate (VESIcare)
  • tolterodine (Detrol)
  • tolterodine extended-related (Detrol LA)
  • trospium chloride (Sanctura)

However, these medications can have undesired side effects, including pupil dilation, which can lead to light sensitivity, and dry mouth. If a person experiences ill effects, the doctor will prescribe a different medication.

Tricyclic antidepressants can also be used to treat bladder spasms. These include amitriptyline (Elavil), doxepin (Sinequan), and imipramine (Tofranil).

Additional therapies

Doctors may recommend treatments that complement medication. For example, if a person is retaining a significant amount of urine after they try to urinate normally, they may require self-catheterization. This involves inserting a thin, flexible catheter into the bladder, providing an exit route for urine.

Another option is for a doctor to inject botulinum toxin (Botox) into the bladder wall. This can reduce the incidence of bladder spasms.

A doctor may also recommend electrical nerve stimulation. This involves implanting or temporarily inserting a stimulator that sends electrical pulses to the nerves that affect the bladder.

Share on Pinterest Getting regular exercise and meditating may help prevent bladder spasms.

For many people, stress can trigger or worsen bladder spasms. Taking steps to reduce stress whenever possible may lead to fewer spasms.

Popular ways to reduce stress include:

  • getting enough rest
  • exercising regularly
  • meditating
  • reading a book
  • engaging in a hobby

A person may also use techniques to distract themselves from the urge to urinate. This is known as urgency suppression.

Practicing pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels, may also help reduce urine leakage.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in the U.S., no changes in nutrition have been shown to reduce the incidence of urinary incontinence.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests that avoiding foods such as alcohol, tomatoes, caffeine, chocolate, and citrus drinks may help to reduce bladder symptoms.

Bladder spasms usually only require emergency care when a person also has a high fever, severe pelvic pain, or a significant amount of blood in their urine.

Anyone who has frequent bladder spasms, is not making it to the bathroom in time, or finds themselves leaking urine, should see a doctor.

The doctor will evaluate symptoms and consider potential underlying causes before determining the best treatment plan.

Bladder spasms may be uncomfortable, painful, and sometimes embarrassing, but they can be treated.

People who regularly experience bladder spasms that lead to urinary incontinence should speak with a doctor.

From medications to surgical interventions, many approaches can reduce the incidence of spasms and help a person to feel comfortable again.

Last medically reviewed on May 24, 2018

  • Overactive Bladder (OAB)
  • Urology / Nephrology

How we reviewed this article:

Medical News Today has strict sourcing guidelines and draws only from peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical journals and associations. We avoid using tertiary references. We link primary sources — including studies, scientific references, and statistics — within each article and also list them in the resources section at the bottom of our articles. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

  • Bladder control medicines. (2014, April)
    https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-control-medicines
  • Bladder control problems in women (urinary incontinence). (2016, July)
    https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-control-problems-women
  • Bladder spasms. (n.d.)
    http://parkinsonhope.org/ask-doctor/bladder-spasms/
  • Friedlander, J. I., Shorter, B., & Moldwin, R. M. (2012, June). Diet and its role in interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome (IC/BPS) and comorbid conditions. BJU International, 109(11), 1584–1591
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22233286
  • Interstitial cystitis. (n.d.)
    http://www.muschealth.org/urology/our-services/bladderhealth/healthinfo/interstitial-cystitis.html
  • What is overactive bladder (OAB)? (n.d.)
    https://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/overactive-bladder-(oab)

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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