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WebMD – Understanding Bladder Infections — the Basics

Posted by 4love2love on June 16, 2011

To read more articles related to health and wellness, please visit WebMD.


What Are Bladder Infections?


Bladder infections are known as cystitis or inflammation of the bladder. They are common in women but very rare in men. About 20% of all women get at least one bladder infection at some time in their lives. However, a man’s chance of getting cystitis increases as he ages due to in part to an increase in prostate size.

Doctors aren’t sure exactly why women have many more bladder infections than men. They suspect it may be because women have a shorter urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the bladder. This relatively short passageway — only about an inch and a half long — makes it easier for bacteria to find their way into the bladder. Also, the opening to a woman’s urethra lies close to both the vagina and the anus. That makes it easier for bacteria from those areas to get into the urinary tract.

Bladder infections are not serious if treated right away. But they tend to come back in some people. Rarely, this can lead to kidney infections, which are more serious and may result in permanent kidney damage. So it’s very important to treat the underlying causes of a bladder infection and to take preventive steps to keep them from coming back.

In elderly people, bladder infections are often difficult to diagnose. The symptoms are less specific and are frequently blamed on aging. Older people who suddenly become incontinent or who begin acting lethargic or confused should be checked by a doctor for a bladder infection.

What Causes Bladder Infections?


Most bladder infections are caused by various strains of E. coli, bacteria that normally live in the gut.

Women sometimes get bladder infections after sex. Vaginal intercourse makes it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder through the urethra. Some women contract the infection — dubbed “honeymoon cystitis” — almost every time they have sex. Women who use a diaphragm as their primary method of birth control are also particularly susceptible to bladder infections, perhaps because the device presses on the bladder and keeps it from emptying completely. Bacteria then rapidly reproduce in the stagnant urine left in the bladder. Pregnant women, whose bladders become compressed as the fetus grows, are also prone to infections. Use of condoms and use of spermicides also increase the risk of urinary tract infections.

Bladder infections can be quite uncomfortable and potentially serious. But for most women, they clear up quickly and are relatively harmless if treated.

In men, a bladder infection may be a symptom of an underlying disorder and is generally a cause for concern. It may indicate the presence of an obstruction that is interfering with the urinary tract. Some studies have shown that uncircumcised boys are at risk of contracting a bladder infection during their first year of life possibly because bacteria may collect under the foreskin.

In recent years, more and more bladder infections come from two sexually transmitted bacteria: chlamydia and mycoplasma.

Home and hospital use of catheters — tubes inserted into the bladder to empty it — can also lead to infection.

Some people develop symptoms of a bladder infection when no infection actually exists. Termed interstitial cystitis, this is usually benign but difficult to treat.

What Are the Symptoms of a Bladder Infection?


Symptoms of bladder infections include:

    • Bladder spasm

Call Your Doctor a Bladder Infection If:

    • The burning sensation lasts for more than 24 hours after you begin trying self-help treatments. Untreated bladder infections can lead to more serious conditions.
    • Painful urination is accompanied by vomitingfeverchillsbloody urine, or abdominal or back pain. This may mean potentially life-threatening kidney disease, a prostate infection, a bladder or kidney tumor, a urinary tract stone. Seek medical help immediately.
    • The burning is accompanied by a discharge from the vagina or penis. This is a sign of a sexually transmitted disease, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), or other serious infections. See your doctor without delay.
  • You experience any persistent pain or difficulty with urination. This may also be a sign of a sexually transmitted disease, a vaginal infection, a kidney stoneenlargement of the prostate, or a bladder or prostate tumor. See your doctor without delay.

How Do I Know If I Have a Bladder Infection?


A urine test usually shows whether you have a bladder infection. If you are having persistent or frequent infections, or if an anatomical defect is suspected as the cause of the problem, your doctor may also want you to undergo testing, including a cystoscopy. This involves putting a thin tube through the urethra that lets your doctor look inside your bladder.

To make sure your kidneys are OK, your doctor may order a CT scan or an intravenous pyelogram (IVP). This is a special X-ray technique for viewing kidneys. Your doctor may also order an ultrasound scan of the entire urinary tract.

When children who are not toilet trained have bladder infections, a thorough medical exam is needed to find the underlying cause. This additional testing may not be required for older children who have had only one bladder infection.

What Are the Treatments for a Bladder Infection?


Mild bladder infections can clear up quickly in response to simple home remedies, such as drinking plenty of fluid. But if you experience no relief within 24 hours, you should consult a doctor for more aggressive treatment. Delay in clearing your body of the infection can lead to more serious problems. A common home treatment is Pyridium. This is merely an anesthetic agent for the urinary tract and won’t actually treat the infection. This can be helpful while waiting for antibiotics to work.

There is a wide variety of antibiotics to treat bladder infections. Most uncomplicated infections can be treated with just three days of medication. Sometimes with some drugs and some organisms it takes up to a week. In most cases, you should feel better shortly after taking the first dose. Complicated infections should be treated for about a week. Kidney infections may take longer. Elderly people and those with a chronic underlying health condition, such as diabetes or HIV infection, are often prescribed a longer course of antibiotics — sometimes up to 14 days.

After the treatment has run its course, you should be asked to come in for a follow-up urine test to make sure your bladder is free of all signs of infection. People with frequently recurring bladder infections are often prescribed low daily doses of antibiotics for an additional six months or longer. Patients whose infections are related to sexual activity may be given a small dose of antibiotics to take each time they have intercourse. Remember that frequently recurring bladder symptoms can be caused by some conditions, like interstitial cystitis, and are not necessary a result of an infection. Some doctors prescribe the hormone estrogen, either as a topical cream or in pill form, to prevent recurrences in postmenopausal women. For cases where the infection is the result of a blockage or obstruction, such as a kidney stone or an enlarged prostate, surgery may be needed.

How Can I Prevent Bladder Infections?


Advice for men and women:

    • Urinate regularly and empty your bladder completely.
    • Wear cotton underwear and loose, nonbinding clothing that does not trap heat and moisture in the crotch.
    • In general, practice good hygiene.
    • Drink plenty of liquids. Cranberry juice may be helpful according to some studies, but it is more helpful for preventing a bladder infection since it keeps bacteria from attaching to the bladder and creating an infection.
  • Avoid substances known to irritate the bladder such as alcohol and coffee.

Advice for women:

    • Some suggest that emptying the bladder after intercourse may be helpful.
    • Avoid using perfumed soaps, bubble baths, scented douches, and vaginal deodorants. These contain substances that can irritate the urethra and make it more vulnerable to infection.
    • If you use a diaphragm for birth control, make sure it fits properly and don’t leave it in too long.
    • Wiping from front to back after emptying the bladder may prevent bacteria around the anus from getting into the urethra and ultimately the bladder.
  • It may be helpful to eat yogurt that contains helpful bacteria called lactobacilli. These bacteria may help in preventing an infection.

The above suggestions are especially important if you’ve ever had a urinary infection, because they will help you avoid recurring infections.

WebMD Medical Reference


National Kidney and Urological Diseases Information Clearinghouse.

American Academy of Family Physicians.

Reviewed by Sanford L Polse, MD, on October 27, 2010

© 2011 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


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