Bladder Problems and Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is more than just "a pain thing."  While pain is certainly one of its' defining symptoms, a host of other issues accompany fibromyalgia syndrome.  Many patients with fibromyalgia, especially women, suffer with pelvic complaints and bladder problems. 

The National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) says 26% of fibromyalgia patients experience bladder problems that may include urinary frequency, incontinence, urgency and interstitial cystitis.  On a scale of one to ten for symptom severity, NFA says patients rate these symptoms about a 2.5, with 10 being most severe.

  • Urinary frequency means a need to urinate more often than usual. Some fibromyalgia patients complain of having to urinate as often as every twenty minutes.
  • Incontinence means inability to stop yourself from urinating before you reach the bathroom.
  • Urgency means feeling a sudden, intense need to go.
  • Interstitial Cystitis is characterized by a range of symptoms from mild discomfort, pressure, and tenderness, to intense bladder and pelvic pain. It is sometimes called Painful Bladder Syndrome.

It's unclear what causes fibromyalgia, but experts believe it may be due to overactive nerves that send pain signals to multiple sites in the body.  Some of these sites are in the bladder.  The bladder becomes inflamed and irritated, which causes bladder spasms, pain and an urge to urinate. 

What can you do about it?  First, see your doctor to make sure your bladder pain is not caused by an infection.  Urinary tract infections are easily diagnosed through a lab test called urinalysis and easily treated with antibiotics.  Untreated urinary tract infections can lead to serious kidney infections. 

If a urinalysis indicates no sign of infection ask your doctor about other diagnostic tests to identify the source of your bladder pain. Interstitial cystitis is often the diagnosis made when everything else has been ruled out.

There's no cure for interstitial cystitis at this time but many treatments and medications are available to relax bladder spasms, reduce pain and urgency.

How to Manage Your Symptoms

Ask your doctor about bladder retraining (a type of physical therapy that teaches your bladder to empty on a set schedule), which is effective for many patients.

  • Urinate frequently.
  • Drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine, citrus juices and other beverages that irritate the bladder.
  • Wear incontinence protection pads for "just in case" emergencies.

Many patients with fibromyalgia find attending support group meetings helps them feel less isolated and alone with their symptoms.  Discovering you're not the only one suffering with bladder problems may be a big relief. 


National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse

What I need to know about
Interstitial Cystitis/Painful Bladder Syndrome

National Fibromyalgia Association

Spectrum of Symptoms
Thursday, November 1, 2007
By: Sandy Bennett

NFA Study Reveals Top Reasons for Discomfort

National Fibromyalgia Association

Interstitial Cystitis and FM - Separate but overlapping

By Chris Cunningham

National Institutes of Health

Interstitial Cystitis