A bladder infection is a common condition normally caused by the growth of bacteria in the urinary tract. It typically causes mild urinary symptoms that pass on their own within a few days, however it can sometimes spread to the kidneys causing more serious symptoms. A bladder infection falls under the category of a UTI (urinary tract infection) and is also known as cystitis. You may also hear it referred to as a ‘water infection’.
Where is your bladder?
The bladder sits above and behind the pubic bone. It’s connected to the kidneys, where urine is made. Urine travels down tubes called ureters into the bladder, and when you urinate, the muscles in the bladder contract, causing the urine to be expelled through your urethra.
In men, the bladder sits above the prostate gland and the urethra is around eight inches long, as it has to travel the length of the penis. In women, the bladder sits beneath the uterus. Because it does not have to pass through the penis, the female urethra is far shorter, usually less than two inches long.
What are the symptoms of a bladder infection?
The symptoms of a bladder infection vary depending upon its severity. However, most people experience the following:
- Needing to urinate more often than usual
- Pain or a burning/stinging sensation while urinating
- The sudden urge to urinate
- Feeling as though you cannot fully empty your bladder
- Abdominal pain
- Foul-smelling, cloudy or bloody urine
- Feeling achy, tired and unwell
On their own, these symptoms typically point to a lower UTI such as cystitis. This means that the infection has only affected the urethra and/or bladder. If the infection spreads further up the urinary tract to the ureters or kidneys this is known as an upper UTI. An upper UTI is more serious than a lower UTI, and its symptoms include:
- A fever
- Pain in your back and sides
- Nausea and vomiting
- Agitation and restlessness
Left untreated, an upper UTI can seriously damage the kidneys and spread to the bloodstream. When you start experiencing these symptoms, you should visit a doctor.
When should I visit the doctor for a bladder infection?
You should talk to a doctor if you’ve contracted a bladder infection for the first time. You should also seek medical advice if you develop the symptoms of an upper UTI, if your symptoms haven’t cleared up after a few days or are getting worse, or if you find that you are getting infections frequently.
Your doctor will be able to prescribe a short course of antibiotics such as Nitrofurantoin, which can clear up the infection within a few days.
How common are bladder infections?
Bladder infections are very common and can affect anyone, however they tend to be more prevalent in women (around half of all women will contract a UTI during their lifetime). This is largely because the female urethra is shorter than the male urethra, therefore, bacteria can enter the bladder more easily.
Bladder infections are also more common in people who:
- Have kidney stones, or any condition that blocks the urinary tract
- Have difficulty emptying their bladder
- Have diabetes
- Have a weakened immune system
- Use a contraceptive diaphragm or spermicidal lubricants/condoms
- Use a urinary catheter
Men with an enlarged prostate, as described above, and women have who been through the menopause can also be prone to bladder infections.
How can I avoid a bladder infection?
It’s not always easy to avoid contracting a bladder infection, but there are some precautions you can take to reduce your risk. These precautions include:
- Staying hydrated
- Not waiting long periods to empty your bladder when you feel the urge
- Making sure you empty your bladder fully
- Avoiding the use of perfumed products around your genitals
- Emptying your bladder after sex
- Wiping from the front to the back after going to the toilet
- Avoiding using a contraceptive diaphragm or spermicidal condoms or lubricant
- Wearing cotton instead of synthetic underwear
If your bladder infection is mild and hasn’t spread to your upper urinary tract, you may be able to “wait out” the infection at home. During this time, you should avoid sex and drink plenty of water; you can also self-medicate with over-the-counter painkillers.
For more information on treatment visit the LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor Cystitis Clinic to find out more.