One of my favorite comedians is Amy Schumer—and not too long ago she was on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. During her segment, Schumer joked about “not being out of the woods” with her urinary tract infection (UTI).
However, bladder pain, like urinary tract infections, is no laughing matter. Every day I hear patients complain about bladder pain or irritation. Approximately 10% to 20% of all women in the U.S. experience urinary tract pain at least once every year.
A urinary tract infection, also known as cystitis, is very common in women—but bladder pain in men can also occur. Men who are at greater risk for bladder infections generally have enlarged prostates, kidney stones, abnormal narrowing of the urethra, or recent urinary tract procedures.
Symptoms vary between patients; one patient may wake up several times throughout the night to urinate, another may simple experience an increased need to urinate or a burning pain when they pee, while another person may notice their urine looks darker and smells foul. Other common bladder pain symptoms include lower abdominal pain, chronic pelvic pain, and pain during sex.
Hidden Causes of Bladder Pain
The good news is that bladder discomfort or pain is often not serious, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be ignored. Certain signs can indicate the hidden causes of bladder pain:
1. Urinary tract infections
Why are bladder infections or urinary tract infections more common in women than bladder pain in men? The female urethra is shorter compared to a man’s, and it is closer to areas with natural bacteria, like the vagina. Bladder pain from urinary tract infections can occur at any age, but especially in young women. They will experience symptoms such as painful and frequent urination.Older women may also experience fatigue, weakness, abdominal pain, and muscle aches. The common course of action for urinary tract infections is antibiotics, but that strategy will only kill the current infection, and it leaves the bladder vulnerable to future bacterial infections.
2. Chronic interstitial cystitis
Chronic interstitial cystitis is bladder pain that is not from an infection. It is considered a severe form of painful bladder syndrome. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), an estimated 3.3 million American women experience symptoms associated with bladder pain, such as pelvic pain or a consistent need or urgency to urinate. It is difficult to diagnose interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome because the symptoms can overlap with other conditions, such as overactive bladder, chronic pelvic pain, endometriosis, vulvodynia, and urinary tract infections.
3. Reproductive system changes
Bladder pain in women may also occur from a change in the reproductive system, called atrophic vaginitis or vaginal atrophy. This occurs when there is thinning, inflammation, or drying of the vaginal skin. It is most common after menopause, but it can also occur during breastfeeding and whenever the body experiences lower estrogen production. Women with vaginal atrophy will often experience painful sexual intercourse; as a result, they can lose interest in intercourse.
4. Bladder cancer
Bladder cancer is considered very rare—there are about 74,000 new cases every year in the U.S., with 18,000 of those cases involving women. Many bladder cancer forms will start in the urothelium and grow through other layers of the bladder. Cancers that start in the bladder include:
|Invasive cancers||Flat carcinomas||Squamous cell carcinoma||Sarcoma|
|Non-invasive bladder cancers||Papillary carcinomas||Adenocarcinoma||Small cell carcinoma|
People with bladder cancer will likely experience blood in the urine, but some women will also have a burning and painful feeling from urination. Bladder cancer is often treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery.
Natural Remedies for Bladder Pain
Bladder infections or bladder conditions are rarely serious, but they should be properly diagnosed and treated. The diagnosis for urinary problems is often made from urinary test findings and symptoms.
Infected urine will be examined with a microscope to determine high levels of bacteria and white blood cells. The test will help determine the type and quantity of the bacteria. The most common type associated with a painful bladder is Escherichia coli (E. coli).
Natural bladder pain treatments are considered the best approach, and there are several natural remedies for bladder pain:
1. Cranberry juice
Cranberries or cranberry juice are considered possible alternatives to antibiotics for the treatment or prevention of urinary tract infections. In a study published in the journal JAMA in 1994, researchers discovered that 300 milliliters of cranberry juice daily reduced the level of bacteria in the urine and recurrence of urinary tract infections in 153 older women. Keep in mind that there was another study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases in 2011, where researchers discovered that cranberry juice didn’t benefit the 319 female participants with symptoms of acute urinary tract infections.
There can certainly be variables that influence negative results, such as the type of cranberry juice used for the study. It is best to drink cold-pressed cranberry juice that does not contain any added sugar. Overall, cranberry juice can be an effective remedy for many people suffering from bladder pain, and it is worth trying.
Antibiotics kill bacteria that cause infections, but it will also kill the good bacteria as well. Probiotics can replenish the body with good bacteria and help prevent bladder pain from bacterial infections. In a 2006 review published in the journal Drugs, clinical studies suggested that probiotics could safely help prevent recurrent urinary tract infections in women.
3. Uva ursi
Uva ursi is considered a popular herbal remedy for urinary tract infections and bladder pain. It is also known as bearberry or upland cranberry, and it has been used to treat urinary tract infections for centuries. The component arbutin is what gives uva ursi its antiseptic activity. After ingestion, arbutin breaks down to hydroquinone, and excretes into the urine. The hydroquinone helps prevent bacterial growth. The standardized dosage of uva ursi is 250 milligrams, or five milliliters in tincture form, four times per day. Excessive dosages of around 15 grams of uva ursi may cause toxicity in some people—toxicity signs include nausea, vomiting, and tinnitus.
Goldenseal is also used in the treatment of bladder pain, and it is considered one of the most effective antimicrobial herbs for urinary tract infections. Goldenseal can help protect against E. coli, Proteus species, Staphylococcus spp. Klebsiella species, Speudomonas species, and Enterobacter aerogenes. The active ingredient in goldenseal is berberine, and it has a similar effect to the hydroquinone in uva ursi when the urine is alkaline.
D-mannose is the natural stero isomer of glucose; it’s found in fruits such as cranberries, blueberries, and apples. D-mannose is quickly processed and eliminated from the body. In a 2014 study published in the World Journal of Urology, researchers discovered that D-mannose powder could significantly decrease the risk of recurrent urinary tract infections. Patients also had a lower risk of side effects compared with the drug group. The recommended dosage for bladder pain is 500 milligrams four times daily. It is thought to relieve urinary tract infections in two to three days.
6. Homeopathic remedies
Several homeopathic remedies can also be included in a bladder pain treatment. Apis mellifica is often considered as a treatment for sharp and stinging bladder pains. Aconitum napellus is often used for the onset of bladder infections. Also, cantharis is considered the appropriate remedy for people who have a strong urge to urinate without much success.
Other commonly recommended homeopathic remedies for bladder conditions include:
- Mercurius corrosivus
- Nux vomica
- Petroselinum (parsley)
It is best to take a 30C potency of the appropriate remedy four to six times every day (30C means the substance has undergone six steps in a series of dilutions; each step involves one part medicine to 99 parts water or alcohol.) Stop taking the remedy once you see improvement from the bladder pain condition.
Other Natural Bladder Pain Treatment
There are other natural remedies for bladder pain, such as maca root, peppermint tea, ginger tea, olive leaf extract, horsetail, vitamin A, vitamin C, Echinacea, parsley water, celery seeds, and horseradish.
Essential oils such as tea tree oil, chamomile, lavender, and bergamot contain antiseptic abilities that help with painful bladder conditions. Sodium citrate and potassium citrate can also help in the temporary treatment of lower urinary tract infections.
It is also a good idea to increase your amount of urine flow. The best way to do it is from drinking larger amounts of liquids, such as water, herbal teas, and cold-pressed vegetable and fruit juices. Soups and broths are also a good idea. Finally, avoid alcoholic beverages, coffee, concentrated fruit drinks, and soft drinks.
It is always best to consult your doctor or natural health practitioner when you experience bladder pain.
Murray, M., et al, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (New York: Atria Paperback, 2012), 471-477.
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Falagas, M.E., et al., “Probiotics for prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections in women: a review of the evidence from microbiological and clinical studies,” Drugs 2006; 66(9): 1253-1261.
Hershoff, A., Homeopathic Remedies: A Quick and Easy Guide to Common Disorders and Their Homeopathic Treatments (New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1999), 111.
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Kranjcec, B., et al., “D-mannose powder for prophylaxis of recurrent urinary tract infections in women: a randomized clinical trial,” World Journal of Urology 2014; 32(1): 79-84.
“What is bladder cancer?” American Cancer Society web site; http://www.cancer.org/cancer/bladdercancer/detailedguide/bladder-cancer-what-is-bladder-cancer, last accessed July 16, 2015.
“Vaginal atrophy,” Mayo Clinic web site; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/vaginal-atrophy/basics/definition/con-20025768, last accessed July 16, 2015.
“Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome,” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases web site, September 10, 2013; http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/urologic-disease/interstitial-cystitis-painful-bladder-syndrome/Pages/facts.aspx.