What to Know About Pelvic Pain vs. Painful Bladder Syndrome

November 05,2021 |
Woman in pain laying on her side.

Chronic pain can be debilitating and drastically reduce your quality of life. However, to mitigate the disruptions caused by the presence of pain, you need to determine what’s causing the problem. Since pain is your body’s way of telling you something isn’t right, it needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, diagnostics aren’t always as straightforward as you’d hope. In some cases, finding the source of pain can seem impossible, which is why many doctors go through a process of elimination. This is especially true when discussing pelvic plan and painful bladder syndrome. For more information on these two conditions, here’s what you need to know about pelvic pain and painful bladder syndrome.

What is Pelvic Pain?

Pelvic pain refers to pain that is localized in the pelvic region. It disproportionately affects women with pain in the region of reproductive organs, but it can also affect men. There are several different reasons that an individual may experience pelvic pain and the approved course of treatment depends on the underlying cause.

Causes of Pelvic Pain

There are a number of things that may cause pelvic pain, which can make diagnosis more difficult. Some of the most common causes of pelvic pain in both men and women include:


  • Intestinal disorders
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Bladder disorders
  • Appendicitis
  • Nerve conditions
  • Hernias
  • Pelvic disorders
  • Broken bones
  • Psychogenic pain

Due to anatomical differences, women are more likely to suffer from pelvic pain. There are many causes of pelvic pain that affect women, but not men. Some of which include:


  • Pregnancy
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Miscarriage
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Ovulation
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Ovarian disorders
  • Fibroids
  • Endometriosis
  • Cancer of the cervix, uterus, or ovaries


Symptoms of Pelvic Pain

The best way to catch any serious problem early is to keep an eye out for symptoms and see your doctor if you notice anything unusual. Aside from the pain itself, you may experience menstrual cramps, vaginal bleeding or unusual discharge, painful or difficult urination, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, blood in bowel movements, painful intercourse, hip or groan pain, and fever or chills. Contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Diagnosing Pelvic Pain

In order to get the proper treatment, you need to understand what’s causing your pelvic pain. Some of the diagnostic tests include a general pelvic exam, urinalysis, blood tests, pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, imaging tests like CT scans or an MRI, diagnostic laparoscopy, hysteroscopy, stool guaiac tests, or a lower endoscopy. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions regarding the tests for diagnosing pelvic pain.

If you’re experiencing pelvic pain, don’t hesitate to see your doctor. Pelvic pain is often an indication that there is a problem with an organ in the localized area and when left untreated, can cause serious complications. See your doctor immediately if you are suffering from any of the symptoms discussed above.

How to Treat Pelvic Pain

Once your doctor has run some diagnostic tests and determined the underlying cause of pelvic pain, a treatment plan is devised. Again, each treatment depends on what’s causing your pelvic pain, so it’s essential to follow your doctor’s instructions to alleviate the problem. Pelvic pain may be treated using a combination of medications, physical therapy, neurostimulation, injections, psychotherapy, and surgery.

Some people suffer from chronic pelvic pain that doesn’t respond well to treatment. If you’re struggling, consider talking to a psychiatrist or psychologist. There is a lot of research on how the mind and the body are connected and seeking professional help will assist you in overcoming stress, anxiety, and depression that may be caused by pelvic pain.

Understanding Painful Bladder Syndrome

Painful bladder syndrome, also referred to as interstitial cystitis, is a condition that causes similar symptoms to pelvic pain. However, painful bladder syndrome is more specifically related to your bladder and associated with symptoms that are common in urinary tract infections.

Causes and Risk Factors for Painful Bladder Syndrome

Unfortunately, there is no known cause of painful bladder syndrome. It’s commonly associated with chronic inflammation of the bladder walls, but most experts believe that it stems from several different variables and risk factors. One of the most pertinent risk factors for painful bladder syndrome is simply being a woman. Painful bladder syndrome tends to affect women about eight times more often than men, but the current cases may be skewed since it mirrors other common urologic conditions.

It should be stated that there are no behaviors that are known to increase your risk of developing painful bladder syndrome, but certain foods and drinks can worsen symptoms.

Signs of Painful Bladder Syndrome

The three telltale signs of painful bladder syndrome include frequency, urgency, and pain. Frequency tends to be the first noticeable symptom. It can increase quickly or happen slowly over time. People with painful bladder syndrome tend to use the bathroom as much as 60 times throughout the day and may experience nocturia. Urgency tends to linger, and some people have said that their urgency didn’t go away with painful bladder syndrome until they received treatment. Finally, the pain associated with painful bladder syndrome directly coincides with a full bladder. As urine accumulates, a painful pressure develops and continues to build until urine is released from the body.

Diagnosing Painful Bladder Syndrome

Due to the symptoms and similarities to other urologic conditions, painful bladder syndrome may be difficult to diagnose. Your doctor may utilize diagnostic testing to rule out other conditions using your medical history, a range of physical and neurological exams, voiding tests, urodynamic evaluations, or a cystoscopy.

Since painful bladder syndrome can present itself with similar symptoms to pelvic pain, it’s important that you see a doctor for diagnosis. Doing so will ensure that you undergo a more targeted, effective treatment plan.

How to Treat Painful Bladder Syndrome

There are several ways to manage interstitial cystitis, or painful bladder syndrome. Some of the most common treatment options are as follows:

Behavioral Modification

Transforming unhealthy habits is the first step to treating painful bladder syndrome. This can help decrease the severity of the symptoms and give you a better understanding of what causes flare ups. Some of the best behavioral modifications are smoking cessation, stress management, healthy eating habits, and being more proactive about preparing for travel.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help patients alleviate ongoing pain through muscle strengthening and alterations to exercise habits. Some of the best exercises to perform for painful bladder syndrome are kegels or other variations of pelvic floor exercises. Working with a personal trainer to practice kegels can help ensure that you’re targeting the correct muscles for bladder control.

Bladder Training

Ongoing bladder training aims to help increase the amount of urine that your bladder can hold and retain over time. It is a gradual process that allows you to obtain stronger control over your bathroom habits. If you’re interested in trying bladder training, talk to your doctor to learn more.


If lifestyle changes aren’t working, your doctor may recommend utilizing one or more prescription medications. These can include pain relievers and medications specifically targeted at improving bladder health. Always tell your doctor about any supplements, vitamins, over-the-counter medications, or prescriptions that you’re currently taking to avoid dangerous interactions.

More Invasive Options

Some people unfortunately do not respond to lifestyle changes and medication alone. To help alleviate debilitating symptoms of painful bladder syndrome, your doctor may recommend the use of injections, nerve stimulation, or even surgery. Botox injections can help strengthen your bladder while nerve stimulation helps to regulate your bladder control and alleviate urgency and frequency. Surgical options include fulguration, resection, and bladder augmentation. Discuss any risks with your doctor and always ask questions as needed.

It's not uncommon to confuse pelvic pain with painful bladder syndrome and vice versa, but it’s important to get the proper diagnosis to ensure that your treatment brings you relief. There are treatment options to help increase the quality of your life and manage symptoms, but painful bladder syndrome can cause a lot of distress. If you think you might be suffering from pelvic pain or painful bladder syndrome or have other symptoms that raise concern, call your doctor immediately. For urological supplies or additional resources, visit our educational support page and our product selection guide. If you’re looking for personalized, confidential services, our teams of knowledgeable urological customer service specialists are here to help.