What is a bladder infection?
A bladder infection is a common condition with upwards of 50% of women experiencing it at least once throughout in their life.
The medical name for bladder infection is Cystitis and it appears when Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria enter and travel up the urethra, infect the urine and inflame the internal bladder lining. E. coli is found primarily in the bowel, and lesser so, in the vagina and on the skin between the anus and the vagina (perineum). Although fairly sedate in its natural environment of the bowel, E. coli bacteria thrives in urine’s acidic state.
Bladder infections almost always present after a bacterial infection in the urine. It is the most common type of urinary tract infection (UTI), with women being much more prone than men. In Canada, more than 50% of women will experience it at least once throughout in their life. The onset age is around 40 years, although many women are diagnosed in their 30s.
A woman’s shorter urethra allows the bacteria to reach the bladder quickly. Additionally, the close proximity of the urethral, vaginal and anal openings make it easy for bacteria to be transferred.
Most women will experience a bladder infection at least once in their lives. While it is painful and annoying, it’s not dangerous or contagious, and can’t be passed on to your partner during sex.
However, if a bladder infection is left untreated, it can ‘backtrack’ deeper into the urinary system from the bladder and end up in the kidneys. A kidney infection is very serious and you’ll need to see your doctor as soon as possible because an infection can cause kidney damage or even kidney failure.
Bladder infection symptomsHere are some of the most common bladder infection symptoms.
Severe bladder pain.The main bladder infection symptom is pain when the bladder is full or filling. You may also experience pain in the pelvis, abdomen and in the vagina, while voiding or during sex. Men may feel pain in their prostate, scrotum or penis.
Frequent urination.The need to urinate frequently, including overnight, is a classic bladder infection symptom. Some people with a severe bladder infection may urinate upwards of 40 times over the course of a full day/night compared to the usual seven or eight
Increased urge to urinate.This bladder infection symptom develops when you’re unable to delay urination and feel an urge to urinate, sometimes straight after doing so. It’s usually not associated with urinary leakage or a fear of leakage although urge incontinence does sometimes occur
Cloudy, bloody or smelly urine.Cloudy, bloody or smelly urine is another classic bladder infection symptom and a sign cystitis is present
Other symptoms.If the infection moves from the bladder to the kidneys, you may also experience infection symptoms like fever, chills, back pain, nausea and vomiting as well as the above bladder infection symptoms. Women with symptoms of a kidney infection should see their doctor as soon as possible.
Bladder infection causesMany factors can cause a bladder infection, some of which include:
- Sexual activity — the risk increases the more often you have sexual intercourse
- Spermicide-coated condoms or a diaphragm with spermicide can alter the naturally protective acidity or pH of the vagina
- Menopause – changes to the lining of the vagina and urethra, reduction in elasticity and lubrication and an increase in pH, makes you more likely to have a bacterial infection.
- A urinary catheter — can introduce bacteria directly into your bladder
- Diabetes increases the risk of bladder infection because of: increased glucose in the urine which helps bacteria to grow; a poor immune system making you more susceptible to infection; and its effect on the nerves so that the bladder does not empty efficiently leading to urinary retention
- Conditions that prevent you from emptying your bladder such as bladder or kidney stones, an enlarged prostate or if you're pregnant
- Irritants such as certain soaps
- Personal Hygiene habits — wiping from back to front when going to the toilet
- A blockage in the urinary tract (cyst, stones, birth defect)
- The weight of the fetus during pregnancy
- Genital prolapse (the dropping down of pelvic organs)
- An incorrectly placed tampon
- Spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis
- Vaginal infections such as candidiasis (thrush) or trichomoniasis can make a woman more susceptible to bladder infections
Diagnosing bladder infectionsSometimes a bladder infection can clear itself up, especially if you’re a woman in good health and take good care of yourself. However, you should see your doctor if any of these bladder infection symptoms persist:
- Your bladder infection symptoms don't improve after two to three days
- There’s blood in your urine
- If you’re pregnant or think you may be pregnant
- If you’re over 65
- You have a high temperature, feel sick or are vomiting
- There’s pain in your lower back or severe abdominal pain
- The bladder infection keeps recurring
- There are other problems with your urinary system such as kidney stones or you have difficulty emptying your bladder
- You have diabetes.
Your doctor will no doubt ask about your symptoms and probably a sample of your urine. They may test your urine with a dipstick or send the sample to a lab for more detailed tests.
Men who get a bladder infection should always see a doctor. Cystitis in men can be caused by an enlarged prostate, which needs to be checked.
Bladder infection treatment
The usual treatment for cystitis, or bladder infection, is with a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics. This is to bring relief from symptoms and to stop any infection progressing until the laboratory testing of your urine sample is complete. Once your doctor has the results, he or she may prescribe a stronger antibiotic to target any particular bladder infection symptom.Always complete an antibiotic course, even if the symptoms disappear, in order to prevent the bladder infection recurring.
If you find antibiotics don't work, you could have a type of bladder infection called interstitial cystitis. This is a chronic (long-lasting) inflammation of the bladder wall that isn't caused by infection. Your doctor will be able to give you more information and help you manage this condition.
Top tips to prevent further bladder infectionsWhen you chat with you doctor, he may suggest you make a few lifestyle changes including:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Reduce your intake of alcohol, tea and coffee as these can all irritate the bladder
- Take urinary alkalinizers
- Take mild painkillers for pain relief
- Avoid eating any foods that can irritate the bladder while the infection is present, including foods with high acid content and amino acids
- Drink cranberry juice everyday
- Urinate as soon as you feel the need
- Don’t use douches, feminine hygiene sprays, or powders
- Take showers instead of baths
- Wear cotton underwear (and change daily) and loose-fitting clothes
- Wear sanitary pads instead of tampons
- Stop using a diaphragm or spermicide and change to an alternate form of birth control
- Use no spermicidal lubricated condoms instead of unlubricated or spermicidal lubricated condoms
Kimberly-Clark Canada makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.