You are seated comfortably in a movie theater, fully absorbed as the film builds toward its climax, when suddenly a powerful urge to urinate intrudes on your viewing pleasure. As you scramble to the aisle, begging forgiveness from fellow viewers, you are overtaken by an alarming sense that it may already be too late.
If this has happened to you, chances are you have experienced the effects of a spastic bladder, a condition in which sudden and powerful contractions of the bladder muscle cause an urgent need to urinate, and, very possibly, an unwanted discharge of urine.
Spastic bladders, which have many potential causes, affect men and women of all ages, but are most likely to occur among older adults. They can be chronic, an occasional nuisance, or even a one-time event. Although the effects may be painful, embarrassing and inopportune, in most cases a spastic bladder does not signify a life-threatening condition, but a hindrance to quality of life.
Before we explain how and why bladder spasms occur, recognize that there are easy solutions to dealing with the effect of this condition. Using incontinence apparel and home accessories, such as nylon pants, disposable liners and washable bedding, help bring everyday comfort and relief.
Bladder spasms are a primary factor in the common condition known as overactive bladder, or OAB. According to the American Urological Association’s Urology Care Foundation, some 33 million American men and women are known to have OAB. OAB is characterized by a need to urinate so frequently that it disrupts normal daytime activities and prevents a full night of restful sleep. A bladder spasm often is the immediate reason for that urgent need to urinate.
Why do the spasms occur? Urinary tract infections are a frequent cause, as well as a condition called interstitial cystitis, a chronic inflammation of the bladder that mostly affects women. Among older men, an enlarged prostate is a major cause. Also, bladder spasms sometimes are caused, or worsened, by certain foods and food substances, such as tomatoes, acidic vegetables, alcohol, caffeinated beverages, chocolate and artificial sweeteners. Some medications, including those that function as diuretics, are also known to prompt bladder spasms. Injury to the bladder, or surgery in the lower abdomen region, including hysterectomy, C-section birth and removal of the prostate, also can make a person susceptible to bladder spasms.
Finally, nerve damage caused by serious central nervous system disorders can interfere with proper signaling between the brain and the bladder muscle, resulting in spasms. People who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and diabetic neuropathy may be subject to bladder spasms for that reason. In rare cases, a spastic bladder can be a sign of a brain tumor.
See a urologist if bladder spasms begin to interfere with your daily routine. Once the doctor rules out the more serious causes, he or she will try to identify the specific reason or reasons for your problem. For example, a urinary tract infection may be treated with an antibiotic; spasms prompted by certain foods can be reduced or eliminated by avoiding those foods. The source of interstitial cystitis, for instance, usually remains elusive and its symptoms, including bladder spasms, may require a “learn to live with it” approach. Your doctor may also prescribe drugs to help relax the bladder muscle. Although often effective, such medicine frequently has side effects, such as dry mouth and constipation.
And here is one more suggestion: next time you are at the movies, sit on the aisle.