Women's Health Resources

Bladder Infection

Bladder infection, or cystitis, is the most commonly seen urinary tract infection (UTI). A UTI refers to a bacterial infection of one or more of the structures that make up the urinary system, the body’s filtering system for disposing of liquid waste. The urinary tract is made up of the kidneys, which make urine; the ureters, the tubes that transport the urine from the kidneys to the bladder where it is stored; and the urethra, the tube that carries the urine out of the body. Bladder infections are often accompanied by urethritis, infection of the urethra.

Bacteria usually reach the bladder by migrating up the urethra from outside of the body. Occasionally, they will travel from another part of the body thought the bloodstream. Men also get bladder infections, but they are more common in females. In women, the urethral opening is located just in front of the vaginal opening, so it is easily contaminated with bacteria that live near the vagina and the rectum. Also, the female urethra is much shorter, making it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder. 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 to prevent moving bacteria to the urethra from the rectum) or after sexual intercourse. During intercourse, bacteria in the vaginal area can be massaged 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 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:

  • 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. Thses may include an ultrasound, x-ray, or other tests to better view the bladder, ureters, kidneys, and other organs in the pelvic region
  • Order antiviotics 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 bath, 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 You Can Expect:

  • 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.

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