Bladder Infection (Women)

Bladder infection, or cystitis, is the most common type of urinary tract infection (UTI). A UTI refers to an infection of the kidneys, ureters (tubes that carry urine from the kidney to the bladder), bladder, or urethra (tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside world. Infection of the urethra (urethritis) may occur along with bladder infections.

Bacteria can get to the bladder in one of two ways: they may come through the blood stream from another part of the body or they may come up the urethra. This occurs more commonly when the urethra has an abnormal structure, has been damaged, or when a urinary catheter has been inserted. Bladder infections in boys and men are much less common than in girls and women. This is because the female urethra is shorter and is closer to the opening of the rectum. One in five women will have a bladder infection sometime in her life.

Risks increase with improper cleansing after a bowel movement or urination (always wipe from front to back) or after sexual intercourse. During intercourse, bacteria in the vaginal area can be moved into the urethra. Risk also increases after menopause, with pregnancy, poor fluid intake, stress, some illnesses, including diabetes; wearing poorly ventilated undergarments; using bath salts or bubble baths; waiting too long to urinate (this stretches the bladder muscle and may result in some urine remaining in the bladder); and loss of suspension (support) of the female organs.

Symptoms of bladder infection may include:

  • Burning, pain, and stinging with urination
  • A sense of urgency to urinate even when the bladder is empty
  • Abdominal or lower back pain
  • Blood or pus in the urine
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Lack of bladder control
  • Fever or foul-smelling urine that may indicate a serious infection

What your doctor can do for a bladder infection

  • Test a urine specimen (urinalysis) and order a culture of the bacteria in the urine
  • If you have recurrent, unexplained bladder infections further tests may be needed. These may include an ultrasound, x-ray, or other tests to better view the bladder, ureters, kidneys, and other organs in the pelvic region
  • Order antibiotics to help kill the bacteria.
  • Prescribe pain medication as needed
  • If recurrent infections are due to loss of suspension of pelvic organs, recommend exercises that may help or surgery

What you can do

  • Finish all antibiotics even after symptoms are gone or the infection may return.
  • Pour warm water over the genitals or sit in a warm bath while urinating to ease discomfort.
  • Empty the bladder immediately before and after sex.
  • Following urination, and especially bowel movements, wipe only front to back.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, and urinate frequently.
  • A water-soluble lubricant (e.g., KY jelly) used during intercourse and changing positions may help prevent trauma to the urethra. Some women find the female-superior or side-lying positions cause less irritation.
  • Other measures to try include taking showers instead of baths, drinking cranberry juice, and avoiding bladder irritants such as caffeine, alcohol, feminine hygiene sprays, deodorants, and douching.
  • Wear cotton underwear since it ventilates better than synthetic fabrics do.

What to expect from bladder infection treatment

  • Symptoms should decrease after 2-3 doses of antibiotics and disappear within 2-3 days.
  • The infection should be eliminated when all antibiotics have been taken.
  • Your doctor may require a follow-up urine test within 2-3 days after completing the antibiotics.
  • Possible complications of frequent, severe or untreated infections include an increased risk of kidney damage.

When to contact your doctor

Contact your doctor for symptoms of bladder infection or if symptoms continue or recur after treatment.

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