Your urinary bladder is a balloon-shaped organ that stores urine from the kidneys until it’s released through the urethra. The bladder is located in the pelvic cavity between the pelvic bones. It can hold around 2 cups of urine.
When the bladder is filling with urine, the muscles in the bladder wall relax. When it’s time to urinate, the bladder wall muscles tighten to help push urine out through the urethra.
A thickening of the bladder wall can be a sign of several medical conditions. It’s usually accompanied by other symptoms, too. Many of these conditions are easily treatable with an early diagnosis.
The muscular wall of your bladder tends to grow thicker if it has to work harder to urinate. It can also thicken if it becomes irritated and inflamed. Scarring of the bladder wall may also cause it to thicken.
Common causes of bladder wall thickening include:
Inflammation due to urinary tract infection (UTI)
A UTI is often the result of bacteria entering the urethra and then the bladder. These infections are more common among females than males.
UTIs are often associated with sexual intercourse, but a woman who isn’t sexually active can also develop a bladder infection. This is simply because of the amount of bacteria in and around the vagina.
One of the major responses to a UTI is inflammation of the bladder wall, a condition known as cystitis. Prolonged inflammation can lead to thickening of the wall. Some other causes of cystitis include inflammation triggered by cancer treatments, like radiation and chemotherapy, or prolonged use of a catheter.
Noncancerous tissue growths
Abnormal tissue growth in the bladder wall causes tumors to grow and the wall to thicken. Noncancerous (benign) tumors include papillomas. For some cases, viruses may be the cause of these growths.
Other benign bladder tumors include leiomyomas, but these are rare. They result from an overgrowth of smooth muscle cells in the bladder wall.
Fibromas are another benign bladder tumor. Abnormal growth of fibrous connective tissue in the bladder wall causes these.
Cancerous (malignant) tumors tend to form first in the innermost lining of the bladder wall. This lining is known as the transitional epithelium.
The abnormal growth of cells in the bladder wall may be related to smoking tobacco or exposure to chemicals. Chronic irritation of the bladder wall or previous radiation exposure can also be the culprit.
Sometimes irritation and inflammation of the bladder wall causes bleeding from the bladder lining. This is considered hemorrhagic cystitis. Causes may include:
- radiation therapy
- an infection
- exposure to certain chemicals, such as insecticides or dyes
Amyloid is a type of abnormal protein that’s made in your bone marrow. Amyloidosis is the buildup of amyloid in an organ. The bladder is one of several organs that can be vulnerable to this disease, but it’s not common.
End stage renal disease can trigger the abnormal growth of amyloid when dialysis doesn’t filter out amyloid that may be present. Autoimmune inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can also trigger amyloidosis, as well as other conditions. There’s also an inherited version called familial amyloidosis.
Bladder outlet obstruction
Bladder outlet obstruction (BOO) is a blockage at the base of the bladder where it empties into the urethra. For men, an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer can result in BOO. Other causes of BOO for men and women include:
- bladder stones
- scar tissue in the urethra
Symptoms of bladder wall thickening usually relate to changes in your urinary habits. You may urinate more frequently, or you may notice that it feels different when you relieve yourself. You may also notice changes in the urine itself.
Underlying causes, such as infections or tumors, can lead to some of the following symptoms:
Cystitis may cause a low-grade fever. A fever is a symptom of many conditions. But if a fever develops at the same time as bladder-related symptoms, see your doctor right away.
Pain when urinating
Painful urination is a symptom of many conditions as well, ranging from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to bladder cancer. A bladder or kidney infection can also cause a burning sensation when you’re urinating. This is one of the surest signs that you should seek medical treatment soon.
Urgency or difficulty urinating
A bladder disorder can make it difficult to fully empty your bladder. This can cause frequent urination, feeling like you always have to urinate, or both.
When the bladder wall thickens, the bladder may not be able to hold as much urine as it normally does. This can create those urgent feelings of having to urinate more frequently. BOO can also make it harder to urinate.
Cloudy urine or blood in urine
You may also see a small amount of blood in your urine. Sometimes this occurs from something as harmless as a strenuous workout. It could also be a sign of cystitis, bladder cancer, or another urinary tract problem.
Often, blood in urine can only be seen under a microscope. If you can see blood in your urine yourself or notice your urine turning cloudy, see your doctor, even if you have no other symptoms yet. It can be a sign of several potentially serious conditions. It’s best to get an early diagnosis sooner rather than later.
Foul-smelling urine or urine with a very strong smell could simply be related to food or beverages you recently consumed. However, it may be a sign of infection. Once a bladder infection is effectively treated, the related foul smell should disappear.
The underlying causes of a thickened bladder wall can differ between men and women.
BOO is more common among men, because it’s often linked to prostate problems. An enlarged prostate forces the bladder to work harder to empty itself of urine. This in turn causes the bladder wall to thicken. Prostate treatment can help reduce the burden on the bladder.
UTIs are more common among women. Thorough treatment can ease the strain on the bladder and allow thickened bladder walls to return to normal.
If you notice symptoms of bladder wall thickening or any symptoms related to your urinary tract system, see your doctor.
They’ll likely have you undergo several tests, such as a urinalysis. For this test, a sample of your urine is checked for signs of infection, blood cells, or abnormal protein levels. If your doctor suspects bladder cancer, they’ll check for cancer cells, too.
If cancer is a possibility, a cystoscopy may also be performed. During this procedure, a thin, flexible scope is guided up the urethra to check the lining of your urethra and bladder. A cystoscopy can also evaluate recurrent infections in the urinary tract.
In addition, a woman may undergo a pelvic exam to help diagnose an infection or other disorder.
Treating a thickened bladder wall means treating the underlying condition that caused the change in the wall.
For example, UTI treatment usually involves a course of antibiotic therapy. To prevent UTIs, practice good hygiene. Wipe front to back to reduce the risk of germs from the rectum reaching the urethra.
Surgery can remove noncancerous tumors that are causing you symptoms. The tumors usually won’t recur.
Cancerous growths can sometimes be removed with surgery, too. Additional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation, may also be necessary.
Prostate treatment is a somewhat controversial subject. Prostate surgery can sometimes lead to incontinence or erectile dysfunction. If prostate symptoms are minor, your doctor may recommend a watch-and-wait approach to monitor your prostate regularly. Prostate cancer is often a slow-growing cancer. This means aggressive treatment isn’t always best.
If excess bladder emptying due to urge incontinence is a problem, your doctor may recommend anticholinergic drugs. These medications relax the detrusor muscle of the bladder.
If urinary retention is occurring due to BOO, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as tamsulosin, to help your urine flow be stronger.
A range of conditions can trigger bladder wall thickening. If you suspect that you have a condition causing you bladder problems, see your doctor, even if it just seems like a minor annoyance at first. Doing so will prevent your symptoms from worsening. Some bladder conditions can lead to life-threatening kidney problems.
Early treatment can prevent long-term harm and provide fast relief for uncomfortable symptoms.