Thumbnail image of: Urinary System: Illustration

Bladder Infection

What is a bladder infection?

A bladder infection, also called cystitis, is a type of urinary tract infection. The urinary tract includes your:

  • Kidneys, which make urine
  • Ureters, which are the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder
  • Bladder, which stores urine
  • Urethra, which is the tube that drains urine from the bladder and out of the body

What is the cause?

Bladder infections are usually caused by bacteria. Normally there should be no bacteria in your urinary tract. Bacteria that cause infections in the urinary tract often spread from the rectum or vagina to the urethra and up into the bladder.

Bladder infections are more common in women because the urethra is short. The short urethra makes it easier for bacteria from the rectum or the genital area to reach the bladder. This can happen during sex. Young women often have bladder infections when they have just started having sex. In older women, irritation and dryness of the vagina after menopause may increase the risk for bladder infections.

Bacteria may grow in the bladder if the flow of urine is blocked. For example, when a woman is pregnant, pressure from the baby can cause this problem. In men, an enlarged prostate may cause a blockage. Kidney and bladder stones can also cause blockage and infections.

If you have recently had a urinary catheter (for example, during surgery) or if you need to use a catheter every day, you are more likely to get bladder infections.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms range from mild to severe. They may include:

  • Urinating more often
  • Feeling an urgent need to urinate or feeling that your bladder is always full
  • Pain or burning when you urinate
  • Pain in your lower belly, low back, or your side
  • Urine that smells bad
  • Urine that looks cloudy, reddish, or bloody
  • Leaking of urine

Fever and chills are more common with kidney infections, but can also happen with bladder infections.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have urine and blood tests.

  • If you have more than one bladder infection, you may need to have additional tests to see if there is a problem in the kidneys or urinary tract:
  • Blood tests
  • An intravenous pyelogram (IVP), which is a series of X-rays taken after your healthcare provider injects dye into your blood vessels to look for blockages in your kidneys and urinary tract
  • An ultrasound, which uses sound waves to show pictures of the kidneys and urinary tract

Men may have more tests because bladder infections are less common in men.

How is it treated?

Your healthcare provider will likely prescribe an antibiotic and medicine to help relieve burning and discomfort. Prompt treatment of a bladder infection with antibiotics usually relieves the symptoms in 1 to 2 days. If your infection has been causing symptoms for several days before treatment or if you have a fever, it may take longer to feel better.

It’s important to get prompt treatment for bladder infections. If the infection is not treated, it could make you very sick and damage your kidneys. If the infection spreads to your blood, it can be life-threatening. If you are very sick, you may need to spend a day or two in the hospital and get antibiotics by IV.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Drink plenty of water each day to flush your bladder and urinary tract unless your healthcare provider has told you to limit how much liquid you drink.
  • If you have a fever, ask your healthcare provider if you should take an NSAID or acetaminophen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. If you were prescribed an antibiotic, take all of it as prescribed, even if your symptoms are gone. Ask your provider:
    • How and when you will hear your test results
    • How long it will take to recover
    • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent bladder infection?

You may help prevent bladder infection if you:

  • Drink enough liquids to keep urine light yellow in color.
  • Drink a glass of cranberry juice each day. The juice should be real cranberry juice, not a cranberry-flavored drink.
  • Don’t wait to go to the bathroom if you feel the need to urinate.
  • Urinate soon after sex.
  • Keep your genital area clean. If you want to have vaginal sex after anal sex, both partners should wash their genitals first.
  • Empty your bladder completely when you urinate.
  • Don’t wear a wet bathing suit for long periods of time.

Also, if you are a woman:

  • If you often have bladder infections, keep a journal to see if they are related to sex. If they tend to happen after sex, your provider may prescribe medicine for you to take to help prevent infection.
  • Don’t use irritating cosmetics or chemicals in your genital area. This includes, for example, strong soaps, feminine hygiene sprays, douches, scented tampons, sanitary napkins, or panty liners.
  • Keep your vaginal area clean. Wiping from front to back after using the toilet may help prevent infections. Use mild, unscented soap to wash your genital area gently each time you bathe or shower.
  • Wear underwear that is all cotton or has a cotton crotch. Pantyhose should also have a cotton crotch. Cotton keeps your body cooler than nylon. Change underwear and pantyhose every day.
  • During pregnancy, tell your healthcare provider if you have had urinary tract problems in the past and let your provider know if you are having symptoms.
  • If you have reached menopause and are not taking estrogen, prescription estrogen vaginal cream may help prevent bladder infections.

Men should always wash their penis during baths or showers. Men who are not circumcised should gently pull back the foreskin and wash the tip of the penis when they take a bath or shower.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-21
Last reviewed: 2014-05-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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