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Bladder Infection: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

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What is Bladder Infection?

Bacteria can cause an infection of the bladder (x). A bladder infection is quite different from a urinary tract infection (UTI) (x). UTI refers to infection of the entire urinary tract, including the bladder, ureters, urethra, kidneys and bladder (x). However, a bladder infection is simply an infection that affects the bladder only (x).

Bladder infections are more predominant in women than in men (x). More than half the women on the globe will experience bladder infection at least once in their lives (x). There are two main types of bladder infections — simple and complicated (x). Most bladder infections are the former type typically caused by the E. coli bacterium (x).

Simple bladder infections occur in healthy individuals. On the other hand, complicated bladder infections may be caused by other factors, including pregnancy, diabetes, catheters and urinary stents (x). Both simple and complicated bladder infections can cause significant discomfort to victims (x). However, simple bladder infections are much easier to treat than complicated ones (x).

Bladder Infection vs. UTI

A bladder infection is a form of urinary tract infection. However, urinary tract infections may not necessarily be bladder infections (x). The most common type of urinary tract infection is bladder infections, or cystitis (x).

A urinary tract infection affects one of multiple parts of the urinary tract, including the bladder, kidneys, urethra and ureters (x). The symptoms of UTI often vary depending on the affected area in the urinary tract (x).

Complicated Bladder Infections

Most bladder infections are simple and relatively easy to treat. Simple bladder infections rarely cause complications. However, some bladder infections can lead to major health complications (x). Such bladder infections are usually called complicated bladder infections (x).

Complicated bladder infections do not respond well to treatment. They are often caused by underlying health complications that make them worse (x). Several factors can make a bladder infection to become complicated (x):

  • Repeated infection: Your healthcare provider may recommend a different treatment plan if you experience bladder infections repeatedly. Some of the recommendations may include taking medications for longer than usual or IV of antibiotics every day for about a week. Patients who experience repeated bladder infections should consider switching to different birth control methods.
  • Kidney damage: Left untreated, a bladder infection can spread to surrounding organs and tissues, including the kidneys, and cause significant long-term damage. Infections that spread to the kidneys may also cause scarring and high blood pressure.
  • Bladder infections and diabetes: Diabetes usually worsens the symptoms of bladder infections.
  • Bladder infections and pregnancy: Infections of the bladder are quite prevalent during pregnancy. Left untreated, they could cause health complications for both the mother and the baby.
  • Life-threatening health complications: Bladder infections may spread to the kidneys and cause sepsis, which can be fatal.

Signs of a Bladder Infection

The severity of a bladder infection determines its symptoms. Signs of a bladder infection are usually noticeable during urination (x). Some of the signs (x) of a simple bladder infection include:

  • Pain or burning sensation during urination
  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Odorous urine
  • Cramping especially of the lower abdomen
  • Sudden or urgent need to urinate

A complicated bladder infection may have the symptoms as a simple bladder infection as well as (x):

  • Back pain that persist regardless of the sitting position or activity
  • Chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Fever

Causes of Bladder Infections

Bacteria in the bladder causes infections (x). The bacteria may get to the bladder in various ways. Once the bacteria infect the bladder, it may spread to other parts of the body. In many cases, the body flushes out microorganisms in the bladder through urination (x). However, a bladder infection occurs when bacteria attach themselves to the walls of the bladder and multiply exponentially (x). The bacteria that cause the infection are naturally present in the large intestines (x). Infections occur when stool containing the bacteria comes in contact with the urethra (x). Women are more prone to bladder infection because their urethra is short and near the anus (x).

Risk Factors

The risk factors for bladder infection include (x):

  • Women are prone to bladder infection because they have shorter urethras than men, which gives bacteria easy accessibility to the bladder
  • Increased sexual activity. Sexually active women are at higher risk of bladder infections than those who are less sexually active
  • Some birth control methods increase the risk of bladder infections
  • Menopause increases the risk of bladder infections due to decreased production of the hormone estrogen, which makes the urinary tract, including the bladder, more prone to infections
  • Expectant women are prone to bladder infections because their bladders are less capable of flushing out the bacteria, unlike non-pregnant women.
  • Abnormalities in the urinary tract that obstruct the flow of urine may increase the risk of infection
  • Men with larger prostate glands are more likely to have bladder infections than men with average-sized prostate glands
  • Urinary catheters, which are often used by individuals who cannot pass urine naturally, also increase the risk of bladder infections
  • The risk of bladder infections in children and toddlers increases if they are female or uncircumcised males
  • Constipation increases the risk of bladder infections
Causes of Bladder Infections

Diagnosis

Your healthcare provider may diagnose a bladder infection by discussing your symptoms. He or she may do urine tests or urinalysis tests to confirm his diagnosis (x). A urinalysis checks for the presence of antibodies in urine (x). The presence of white blood cells in urine samples indicates bladder infections (x).

Additional tests such as urine culture tests may be taken to check if the bladder infection has spread to the kidneys (x). A urine culture test can confirm the specific type of bacteria that causes a bladder infection. This type of test is recommended if an individual (x):

  • Exhibits symptoms atypical of a bladder infection
  • Gets recurrent bladder infections
  • Is expectant
  • Has a bladder infection that does not respond to antibiotics

Bladder Infection Treatment

Simple bladder infections can be treated with antibiotics (x). There are two main courses of treatment for simple bladder infections — a three-day and a seven-day course of treatment (x). The former is just as effective as the latter, but with fewer side effects (x). Some patients may be given a single-dose treatment depending on the severity of the infection (x).

Symptoms usually start improving immediately after beginning treatment. However, it is advisable to take the full dosage regardless of how better you feel. Failure to stick to the recommended treatment plan may result in a recurrence of the infection (x). Seek medical care if symptoms do not improve after two to three days of medication. Treating complicated bladder infection usually involves taking antibiotics for seven to 14 days (x).

Home Remedies

Cases of antibiotic-resistant bladder infections have been on the rise, which is why healthcare professionals advise women to take steps to prevent bladder infections when possible (x). Some of the strategies for preventing (x) bladder infections include:

  • Change your birth control method: Spermicides and diaphragm birth control methods increase the risk of bladder infections
  • Drink lots of water and be sure to urinate after sex: This strategy helps the bladder flush out bacteria that may enter the urethra
  • Apply post-menopausal vaginal cream to minimize the risk of infection due to reduced production of the hormone estrogen during menopause

Supplements for Bladder Infections

Cranberry

This supplement is rich in antioxidants and is known for supporting skin and overall health (x). Cranberry also supports stomach and bladder health (x). In addition, it promotes cardiovascular health and helps to maintain healthy blood glucose levels (x). Cranberry also contains anti-inflammatory agents and supports dental health (x). The best serving size for cranberry is 400 milligrams taken three times per day. Overdose may cause abdominal discomfort and diarrhea. Avoid supplementing with cranberry if you are expectant or nursing. Discontinue use in case you notice signs of an allergic reaction, including difficulty breathing, dizziness and itching tongue.

Vitamin C

This supplement strengthens the immune system and repairs worn tissues (x). It also supports metabolism and plays an essential role in carnitine synthesis (x). Vitamin C also strengthens collagen, teeth and bones (x). This product is loaded with antioxidants that protect body cells from damage and promotes cardiovascular health (x).

The best serving size for vitamin C is 1,000 milligrams once per day. This product is not toxic and is not known for having any adverse side effects. If side effects occur, they are usually mild and may include diarrhea and stomach upset. However, an overdose may negatively affect copper and iron levels in the body. Therefore, speak to a healthcare professional for supplementation advice if you have a copper deficiency or condition that leads to a buildup of iron deposits in the body. Expectant and nursing women should avoid supplementing with this product altogether.

D-Mannose

This product supports urinary tract health (x). D-mannose also strengthens the immune system (x). The correct dosage for this product is 2,000 milligrams per day taken with lots of water. Overdose may cause side effects such as bloating and abdominal discomfort. Avoid taking this product if you have a history of kidney disorders. In addition, women in maternal condition, including lactating mothers, should not supplement with this product. Talk to your physician about supplementing with D-mannose if you are on any medication.

The Bottom Line

There are two main types of bladder infections — simple and complicated (x). A simple bladder infection, for example, is easy to treat with antibiotics. However, complicated bladder infection is usually more difficult to treat (x). Common symptoms of a simple bladder infection include pain during urination, increased frequency of urination, sudden or urgent need to urinate and pain in the lower abdomen (x). A complicated bladder infection usually has the same symptoms as a simple bladder infection, but with additional symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, headaches and fever (x). Treatment for bladder infection involves the administration of an antibiotic (x). Supplements such as vitamin C, D-mannose and cranberry may minimize the symptoms and discomfort of a bladder infection.

About the author

Carey Ojuju


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