Bladder Infection: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Bladder infection, also referred to as cystitis, is the inflammation of the bladder caused by bacterial infection. This infection can get anywhere in the urinary tract, such as the kidneys, bladder, urethra or ureters and hence is also called a urinary tract infection (UTI). In the majority of cases, the bladder infections occur suddenly and are referred to as acute bladder infection. However, it may even appear as a long term condition known as a chronic bladder infection. If you want to prevent the spreading of the infection further, you must seek treatment immediately upon realizing that you have an infection.
What Causes a Bladder Infection?
The bladder infections are mainly caused by various strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli), a type of bacteria that is normally present in the large intestines. Normally, the body prevents the infection by eliminating these bacteria during urination.
So how do you get a bladder infection? Well, sometimes too many bacteria accumulate in the body and do not get flushed out through urination, resulting in infection. E. coli bacterium is typically transmitted through sexual contact. During sexual intercourse, bacteria find its way through the urethra and escapes into the bladder, leading to an infection.
Who Is at Risk of Getting a Bladder Infection?
It has been concluded that women are more vulnerable to this kind of infection than men. The vaginal intercourse makes it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder through the urethra, increasing the risk for bladder infection. Since it is more often caused by frequent sex, it is also dubbed as "honeymoon cystitis".
While the exact reason why women are more vulnerable to this isn’t known, doctors believe that women catch this infection more easily than men because they have shorter urethras (only about an inch and a half long), which makes it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder. Moreover, the opening to a female's urethra is located close to both the vagina and the anus. This means the bacteria need not travel much distance to reach the urinary tract. They can easily get into these organs and cause bladder or urinary tract infection.
On the other hand, bladder infection in men is not very common. This is because men have an additional defense against these bacteria with the prostate gland. The prostate gland is a gland located between the bladder and the penis which secretes protective hormones as a safeguard against bacteria. This fluid is also responsible for nourishing and protecting the sperms. Despite this protection, bacteria can still sometimes stick to the bladder walls and multiply rapidly. This overpowers the body’s ability to destroy them, causing a bladder infection. Hence, while bladder infection symptoms in women are more common, men aren’t completely immune to them.
The following are some other factors that can augment the risk of bladder infections or UTI for both men and women:
- Advanced age
- Insufficient consumption of fluids
- Surgical procedure within the urinary tract
- Blockage in the bladder or urethra (urinary obstruction)
- Urinary tract abnormality, caused by injuries or birth defects
- Difficulty emptying the bladder (urinary retention)
- Narrowing of the urethra
- Bowel incontinence
- Enlarged prostate
What Are the Symptoms and Signs of a Bladder Infection?
Bladder infection symptoms vary from person to person on the basis of severity. The following are some of the most common signs and symptoms of a bladder infection:
- Burning sensation or pain while urinating
- Frequent urge to urinate but passing only a small amount
- Cloudy or bloody urine with a foul odor
- Bladder spasm
- Pressure or cramping in the lower back or lower abdomen
- A fever or chills; indicating that the infection has reached the kidneys
- Lethargy or mental confusion in elderly people; indicating a serious urinary tract infection
While bladder infections aren’t serious or life-threatening if treated immediately, they can recur in some people. In rare cases, this can also lead to kidney infections, which may cause permanent damage to the kidney. Hence, it’s very crucial to treat the underlying causes of a bladder infection in order to stop it from coming back.
How Is a Bladder Infection Diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a urinalysis to diagnose your bladder infection. This is a simple urine test performed to check for the presence of:
- Red blood cells
- White blood cells
- Other chemicals that are present in the urine
A urine culture may also be performed by your doctor. It is a test to determine the type of bacteria that is causing the infection. Once it is determined, testing the bacteria for antibiotic sensitivity is done to decide which antibiotic is best suitable for treating the infection.
If you are experiencing frequent or recurring infections (chronic), if you are passing bloody urine persistently, or if an anatomical defect is assumed to be the underlying cause of the problem, your doctor may recommend you to undergo testing, including a cystoscopy. During this test, a thin tube is inserted through the urethra which lets the doctor see inside the bladder. In order to make sure that the infection has not affected your kidneys, your doctor may perform a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis. He may also want you to undergo an ultrasound scan of the entire urinary tract. On the basis of the reports, he will then suggest you the appropriate treatment.
What Is the Treatment for Bladder Infection?
After the diagnosis, your doctor will prescribe you medication, mainly antibiotics, to kill the infection causing bacteria. Certain home treatments can also be helpful in getting relief from the symptoms.
The uncomplicated cases of bladder infection are treated with oral antibiotics. Your doctor may also prescribe certain medications, such as phenazopyridine (Pyridium), to relieve the symptoms such as pain or burning sensation during urination. The course of bladder infection treatment is normally 3 days, but you may start feeling better within 1 day after starting the treatment.
People with chronic bladder infection may be given low daily doses of antibiotics for an additional 6 months or longer.
If the infection has reached the kidneys, a different choice of antibiotic is prescribed and the treatment may take longer. People who have chronic underlying medical condition, such HIV or diabetes, and elderly people are often prescribed a longer 14-day course of antibiotics.
If urinary blockage or obstruction is the cause of your infection, such as an enlarged prostate or kidney stone, surgery may be required for bladder infection treatment.
While you are on the antibiotic treatment, you should drink plenty of fluids. This helps flush infection causing bacteria out of your bladder. While plain water is the best, you should drink fluids in the form of juices and soups too. Your doctor may also recommend you to take over-the-counter vitamin C supplements or drink cranberry juice. This will increase the acid levels in your urine, which helps to kill the bacteria. Moreover, cranberry juice inhibits bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder.
How Do You Prevent Bladder Infections?
The bladder infection can be prevented by making certain lifestyle changes. By making the following changes in your lifestyle, you can lower your risk of getting a bladder infection:
- Drink plenty of liquids every day, both in the form of plain water or in the form of juices and soups. If you have kidney failure, discuss with your doctor about the right amount of fluid you should drink.
- Drink cranberry juice regularly
- Urinate as soon as you feel the urge and empty your bladder completely
- Wear cotton underwear and change them daily
- Wear loose-fitting and comfortable clothing that does not trap moisture and heat
- Practice good hygiene
- If you are a female, wipe from front to back after urinating or passing stools
- Avoid alcohol and coffee as these substances are known to irritate the bladder
- Avoid using douches, powders, or feminine hygiene sprays
- Wear sanitary pads instead of tampons
- Urinate before and after vaginal intercourse
If you have chronic bladder infections that frequently recur, your doctor may prescribe you prophylactic treatment. This consists of antibiotics you need to take in small doses daily to prevent the recurring of bladder infection in the future. He may also prescribe you a single dose of an antibiotic that you need to take each time you have sexual intercourse.
What Are the Different Home Remedies for Bladder Infection?
The only way to completely treat urinary tract infection is by taking an antibiotic as prescribed by your doctor. However, there are some home remedies for bladder infection you can follow, along with the antibiotic treatment, to get relief from symptoms sooner and decrease the risk of getting infection again.
- Drink plenty of water: As mentioned above, drinking plenty of water will help you eliminate the bacteria through urination which is causing the infection. How much you should drink daily depends on your body weight and size. Discuss with your doctor about how much water you should drink every day to stay hydrated and ease your bladder infection symptoms.
- Empty your bladder whenever you feel the urge to urinate: Frequent urination helps flush the infection causing bacteria out of the body. So whenever you feel the urge to urinate, go and do it!
- Get enough Vitamin C: Getting enough vitamin C makes the urine acidic, which is not an ideal environment for infection causing bacteria. Taking over-the-counter Vitamin C supplements stops the growth of bacteria in the urinary tract. If you already have an active UTI, it can help that too. Drinking cranberry juice, as mentioned above, is another effective way to treat bladder infection symptoms as it is rich in Vitamin C.
- Soothe the pain with heat: Irritation and inflammation from bladder infection cause pressure, burning, and pain around your pubic area. You can soothe this pain and irritation by applying a heating pad.
- Avoid the intake of bladder irritants: If you have a bladder infection, you must avoid drinking coffee, alcohol, and carbonated drinks. The nicotine, artificial sweeteners, and spicy food should also be stopped altogether as these are bladder irritants that can make your condition even worse. Replace these foods with healthy ones such as high-fiber carbohydrates, which are good for your digestive system.
- Consider herbal remedies: The herb uva ursi (bearberry leaf) is often touted as an effective home remedy for treating bladder infections. However, it should not be taken for a very prolonged period as it can cause damage to the livers if taken for long. The consumption should be limited to just 5 days or less. Before trying any of such herbal remedies, make sure to tell your doctor as some may interfere with your antibiotic treatment as well.
- Adopt healthier lifestyle: Making positive changes in your lifestyle can also help you recover from the bladder infection symptoms.
- Ginger tea: Drinking ginger tea reduces inflammation and pain. The chemical make-up of ginger makes it very helpful in treating various kinds of diseases and infections.
Bladder infection is not a very serious problem. However, proper treatment needs to be followed as soon as you experience bladder infection symptoms. This will avoid the infection spreading further and affecting your kidneys. In most of the cases, the pain and burning associated with it disappear within 48 hours after the treatment. Even if you have recurring infection, making certain lifestyle changes and following proper treatment as prescribed by your doctor can really help in the long term. Practicing good hygiene and avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking can not only help in bladder infection treatment, it also keeps your overall health in a good condition.