Bladder Infection (Urinary Tract Infection)

Information on the causes and symptoms of bladder infections.

Select a Topic

  1. What is a Bladder Infection?
  2. What Causes a Bladder Infection?
  3. Symptoms of Bladder Infections
  4. Help for Bladder Infections

What is a Bladder Infection?

A bladder infection is commonly referred to as a urinary tract infection (UTI). When bacteria enter the urinary tract via the urethra, it can move up into the bladder and multiply, causing a bacterial infection.

Types of Bladder Infections

There are two main types of urinary tract infections: lower tract and upper tract. The lower tract involves the urethra and/or the bladder. When the urethra is infected, it is called urethritis. When the bladder is infected, it is called cystitis.

Upper tract infections involve the kidneys. Bacteria may enter the kidneys from the bloodstream or by bacteria ascending via the ureters to the kidneys. A kidney infection is known as pyelonephritis, a serious medical condition.

What Causes a Bladder Infection?

A bladder infection is typically caused by a bacterial infection in the urinary system. The most common culprit is bacteria that have spread from the rectal area into the urethra. Bacteria from the stool get onto the skin and enter the urethra.

About 80% of such infections are caused by Escherichia coli (E.coli), naturally present in the large intestines. Other bacterial culprits can include Staphylococcus saprophyticus, Klebsiella, Enterobacter, and Proteus species.  

The body normally removes such bacteria by flushing it out during urination. When the bacteria attach to bladder walls and multiply faster than the body can destroy them, an infection develops.

Women are at higher risk of developing UTIs than men. The female urethra is short and located near the anus and vagina, where bacteria live, making it easy for bacteria to move from one area to another. Bacteria can get in during sex, from wiping back to front after going to the bathroom, using a diaphragm for birth control and putting in a tampon.

Pregnancy can increase risk of a UTI. The position of the baby may prevent the bladder from emptying completely, creating a hospitable environment for bacteria.

Estrogen levels drop during menopause, which thins the lining of the urethra and can cause changes in vaginal bacteria balance. This can make infections more likely.

In men, prostate infections are a primary cause of UTIs. Any blockage that prevents the bladder from emptying completely can cause infection, including bladder stones or an enlarged prostate.

Contributing Causes of UTIs:

  • Stress
  • Use of a diaphragm for birth control
  • Inadequate personal hygiene
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Weakened immune system

Diagnosing a Bladder Infection

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a UTI, contact your doctor. Understanding the signs and symptoms will help in determining whether medical attention required. A physical examination may be recommended to diagnose the severity of the infection.

Your doctor may perform a urinalysis, which checks urine for the presence of white blood cells, red blood cells, bacteria and nitrites.

A urine culture may also be performed, which determines the specific bacteria causing the infection. This is useful in determining the best antibiotic to treat your symptoms.

Bladder infections are rarely serious, but it’s important to treat them right away so the bacterial infection doesn’t travel up to the kidneys and cause more severe problems.

Symptoms of a UTI:

  • Urgent need to urinate or overactive bladder
  • Burning or pain during urination (dysuria)
  • Cloudy, bloody or foul-smelling urine
  • Passing only small amounts of urine at a time
  • Pelvic pain
  • Fever (may be a sign that the infection has spread to your kidneys)

If the infection spreads to the kidneys, it can cause mid-back pain. A kidney infection may cause fever, chills, nausea and vomiting. This is a serious medical condition and requires immediate medical attention.

Also call your doctor if your symptoms return after you’ve finished treatment, if you’re having ongoing trouble urinating, or if you have discharge from your vagina or penis. This could be a sign of another serious infection or an indication your infection is resistant to the specific antibiotic prescribed by your doctor.

Help for Bladder Infections

Symptoms can be treated with prescription drugs or complementary therapy. Over-the-counter drugs including painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications are often recommended to relieve pain and discomfort.

Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat the infection. These should be used carefully, since overuse can contribute to recurring infections and continued antibiotic use weakens the immune system.

A mild infection may resolve itself within a few days. Most subside within two days of taking antibiotics.

Self-care when you have a UTI:

  • Avoid having sex.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods, which can make symptoms worse.
  • Use a heating pad on your abdomen.
  • Cranberry juice or cranberry concentrates are popular home remedies but aren’t medically proven.
  • Soak in a warm bath for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Try an over-the-counter pain reliever.

Tips for Preventing Bladder Infections:

  • Drink plenty of water to flush out your system.
  • Do not resist the urge to urinate and empty the bladder completely.
  • Women should wipe from front to back after urinating.
  • Avoid using products that may irritate the genital area, such as scented soap, bubble bath, talc or spray.
  • Wear cotton underwear rather than nylon. Avoid wearing tight pants and wet swimsuits.
  • Wash before and after sex.
  • Products such as UTI-Clear™ may also provide help with promoting healthy urinary tract functioning and systemic flushing.
The content provided is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have a health condition, please consult a medical professional and do not use this information to self-diagnose or self-treat.
Reviewed by Master Herbalist, Mary Ellen Kosanke

References:

1. “Bladder Infection (Urinary Tract Infection – UTI) in Adults.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders. Accessed February 17, 2020. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-infection-uti-in-adults

2. “Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).” Mayo Clinic. Accessed February 17, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-tract-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20353447

3. “What is a Bladder Infection?” Healthline. Accessed February 17, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/bladder-infection

4. “What are Bladder Infections?” WebMD. Accessed February 17, 2020. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/understanding-bladder-infections-basic-information