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Distended Bladder: Causes, Risks, Prevention

Distended Bladder: Causes, Risks, Prevention

The urinary bladder is a pear-shaped muscular sac where urine is stored briefly. It is located just above and behind the pubic bone. The size and shape of the bladder depend on how much urine it contains. It can also be affected by the pressure it sustains from surrounding organs.

When urine is stored in the urinary bladder, it allows urination to be controlled and infrequent. During urination, the urine exits the bladder and flows into the urethra, which allows urine to flow out of the body. The normal capacity of the bladder is 400-600 ml of urine.

distended bladder

A sensation of fullness or pressure is experienced when the bladder is full but will disappear once the person urinates. However, some people experience this pressure persistently and sometimes it is accompanied by an ache or pain. This is not normal and may be signs of a distended bladder.

Distended Bladder

The urinary bladder helps control urination so it does not become too frequent. When the bladder becomes full, the person has to urinate to empty the bladder.

But what if the bladder is unable to empty completely?

When the bladder becomes full and urine stays too long, it may lead to an infection in the bladder or in the ureters. There are cases where the bladder is not able to contract and empty completely. The urinary bladder will become too full and it will swell. The urine may back up into the kidney and the pressure may cause damage to the blood vessels of the kidney. This may cause a distended bladder.

Distended bladder is a term referring to urinary retention in the bladder when it is not capable of emptying normally. It usually occurs when there is a loss of tone in the bladder muscles causing it to fail to detect the elevated pressure exerted by the urine.

In other cases, there is an obstruction that does not allow urine to flow into the urethra. This may cause pain, a feeling of fullness, and the urge to urinate frequently.

What causes a Distended Bladder?

Urine is made up of waste substances filtered by the kidney from your blood. If the patient’s bladder does not completely empty when he or she urinates, it may be a sign of urinary retention.

Urinary retention is a health condition where the bladder does not empty all the way or doesn’t empty at all when you urinate. The causes for urinary retention may include:

  • An infection or swelling that prevents urine from leaving your body
  • Certain nerve issues preventing your brain and urinary system to communicate effectively
  • Taking medications for other health conditions
  • Medications are given to you for a surgical procedure and its side effects
  • Congestion that blocks the flow of urine out of your body

There are two types of urinary retention namely:

  • Acute urinary retention. This means the condition is sudden and is escalating rapidly. It could be a severe case of urinary retention and is considered a medical emergency.
  • Chronic urinary retention. It means that you’ve had the condition for a long period of time already.

The infection and swelling of the bladder or bladder distention is one of the symptoms of urinary retention. In the case of acute urinary retention, what happens if the bladder becomes severely swollen and full of urine?

Risks and Complications

An over-distended bladder does not only cause discomfort and the feeling of fullness, but also other symptoms including:

  • Severe case of suprapubic pain. The ache or pressure happens in your lower abdomen, where organs such as the intestines, bladder, and genitals are located.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A frequent urge to urinate

If a case of distended bladder remains untreated, the following complications may occur:

  • UTI or Urinary Tract Infection. When urine does not completely flow out of the body, bacteria also remains inside and could multiply and infect the urinary tract. Severe cases of infections can spread to the kidneys.
  • Bladder damage. When the bladder is not emptying normally, it becomes full and stretched for a long period of time. It could cause swelling which leads to muscle damage and the bladder may not work correctly anymore.
  • Kidney damage. When you have a distended bladder, it becomes full and may cause urine to flow back up to the kidney, damaging its little nerves. Your kidneys may fill up with urine as well and will also become distended and swollen. This may lead to chronic kidney disease and kidney failure.
  • Urinary incontinence. Urinary or overflow incontinence is when the bladder is full and does not empty which leads to the involuntary leakage of urine.

How to Prevent a Distended Bladder

A distended bladder may lead to severe complications. You can take these preventive steps to lower your chances of developing this condition:

  • Change your bathroom habits. Holding in urine frequently may wear out your bladder muscles and can lead to UTI and urinary retention.
  • Pay attention to your body. Note every change in your urination habits, whether you have the urge to urinate frequently or you are feeling dull aches or pressure in your lower abdomen.
  • Do Kegel exercises. Pelvic floor exercises can improve bladder and bowel function in both men and women.
  • Improve your diet and lifestyle. Drink plenty of water and fluids and engage in physical activities.
  • Take prescribed medicines and seek help from your doctor when symptoms persist.

In severe cases, treatment is aimed at removing the cause of bladder swelling. Early diagnosis is important because there is no way to repair the bladder muscle if it is stretched to its limit. Proper medication will help restore normal bladder function.

In cases where an enlarged bladder is caused by an obstruction or congestion, a surgical procedure is the best option. Once the blockage is removed, the bladder may function normally again depending on how much damage it sustained.

Simple Ways to Boost Bladder Health

Key Takeaways

Having a distended bladder can be painful. What’s more, it could potentially lead to fatal complications.

The overall health of the urinary system relies heavily on your diet, lifestyle, and bathroom habits. Your body has a way of telling you that you should make healthier choices so it’s important to be observant and vigilant. Sometimes simple stomachaches may be signs of serious health conditions.

Always consult your doctor if you suspect problems in your bladder or overall urological function.

Learn more about bladder disease, here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Urinary Bladder | SEER Training


April 14, 2021

How does the urinary system work? – InformedHealth.org – NCBI Bookshelf – NIH


April 14, 2021

Distended Bladder | MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid


April 15, 2021

Urinary Retention: Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment


April 15, 2021

Definition & Facts of Urinary Retention | NIDDK


April 15, 2021


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Written by Lhay Ann Boctoy on Apr 24