Bladder Infection: Symptoms, Causes, and When to See a Doctor
Your doctor may perform urinalysis or a urine culture to determine how severe the infection is and which bacteria are causing the infection.
Treatment usually involves taking antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Depending on the type of antibiotic, treatment for acute cystitis can range from 1–7 days, while treatment for complicated cystitis may take 10
Sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “female” and “women” to describe people assigned female at birth.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, most UTIs occur in the bladder, but they can develop in other parts of the urinary system. Bladder infections are a form of UTI, but not all UTIs are bladder infections.
Although symptoms are usually the same, UTIs may also cause nausea, lower back pain, and chills. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms to determine the type of UTI you have, its severity, and the best treatment for it.
Seek medical attention for any symptoms to prevent complications, such as a kidney infection.
Symptoms of a bladder infection are usually very apparent and come on quickly. Most people experience a similar variety of symptoms when they have a bladder infection.
Common symptoms of a bladder infection
The most common symptoms of a bladder infection include:
- pain or burning with urination
- frequent or intense urges to urinate
- pelvic pain or pressure
- lower abdominal discomfort
- blood in the urine
- cloudy or foul smelling urine
Conditions with similar symptoms
Some conditions cause symptoms similar to those of bladder infections. These include:
- Urethritis: This is an infection of the urethra that can also cause painful urination, blood in the urine, and cloudy or foul smelling urine.
- Interstitial cystitis: This is a type of chronic bladder pain that is not the result of an infection. The cause is not known, and it can be difficult to treat.
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life threatening condition
In some cases, a bladder infection can spread and become life threatening. Seek same-day medical attention for the following symptoms:
- pain on either side of the lower back, which can indicate a kidney infection
- high fever (higher than 101ºF or 38ºC)
- shaking or chills
Call 911 for these emergency symptoms:
Most often, bacteria in the bowel called Escherichia coli cause bladder infections. Bacteria enter the body via the urethra, through which urine exits the body, and settle in the bladder.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that females are more susceptible to bladder infections because of the proximity of the urethra and anus.
It is important for females to wipe from front to back when using the bathroom and to urinate after sexual intercourse to help prevent E. coli from coming into contact with the urethra.
A number of factors can increase the risk of developing a bladder infection. However, not all people with risk factors will get a bladder infection.
The most common risk factors for a bladder infection include:
- being sexually active
- using a diaphragm or spermicide for birth control
- having a spinal cord injury or nerve damage around the bladder
- having kidney stones or an enlarged prostate
- having diabetes or an autoimmune condition
- recently using a urinary catheter
- having a history of bladder infections
Reducing your risk of a bladder infection
You may be able to lower your risk of bladder infections by:
- drinking lots of water
- emptying your bladder regularly
- urinating after sexual intercourse
- switching your birth control method
If you have frequent bladder infections, it may be helpful to discuss risk factors with your doctor. They may recommend additional testing to determine a potential underlying cause, such as an autoimmune condition.
To diagnose a bladder infection, your doctor or licensed healthcare practitioner may ask you several questions about your condition, including:
- What kinds of symptoms are you experiencing?
- How long have you had these symptoms?
- Do you have a history of bladder infections?
- Does anything make your symptoms feel better or worse?
Your doctor may also order a few tests to confirm a diagnosis of a bladder infection. These may include:
- Urinalysis: You will collect a sample of urine that a laboratory technician will test for bacteria and white blood cells, which are cells the body uses to fight infection.
- Urine culture: From a urine sample, the laboratory technician can also determine which bacteria are causing the infection. This can help your doctor find the right kind of antibiotic to use to treat your bladder infection.
- Cystoscopy: If you have repeated bladder infections, your doctor may order cystoscopy, which is a procedure that looks at your bladder and urinary structures through a tube-like instrument. This can help show signs of infection, such as redness or swelling. It can also help identify structural issues that make the bladder more prone to repeated or complicated infections.
If bacteria are the cause of your bladder infection, your doctor will order antibiotics to treat the infection.
The most common antibiotics used to treat bladder infections are:
- nitrofurantoin (Macrobid)
- trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim)
- fosfomycin (Monurol)
Usually, symptoms start to go away within a few days of treatment. However, your antibiotic prescription may last for 7–10 days, depending on the type of medication your doctor prescribes. It is important to take the medication for the full length of time on the prescription label, even if you feel better. This increases the likelihood of curing the infection and lowers the risk of creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Your doctor may also prescribe a medication for pain relief to help with any symptoms of burning or pain while urinating.
Home remedies for bladder infection symptoms
Drinking plenty of water can help clear the infection and may help relieve your symptoms sooner. Some people find that taking cranberry extract also helps relieve their symptoms. However, research on this is inconclusive.
Some research suggests that consuming cranberry juice, extract, or pills can help prevent bladder infections. However, these are not treatments for a bladder infection if you already have one. It is also important to drink at least eight glasses (64 ounces) of water each day to help keep your bladder healthy and prevent infection.
If you are currently treating a bladder infection, drinking plenty of water can help flush out bacteria and clear the infection.
Without treatment, bacteria from the bladder can travel up to the kidneys and cause a kidney infection. This can cause pain on the sides of the body (flank pain). You may also experience fever and chills.
Sepsis is another possible complication of infection. Although bladder infections can sometimes cause a low grade fever, it is important to let your doctor know if you experience a high fever and shaking or chills.
When treating a bladder infection, take the full course of medication, even if you start feeling better. Completing the treatment reduces the risk of complications.
Bladder infections result from bacteria that travel through the urethra and reach the bladder. Most often, these bacteria are E. coli.
A bladder infection is not the same as a UTI. A bladder infection is a type of UTI, but not all UTIs are bladder infections.
Symptoms of bladder infections include a frequent need to urinate, painful or burning urination, and cloudy or dark urine.
Treating a bladder infection typically involves taking antibiotics to kill the bacteria. If you have recurring bladder infections, talk with your urologist about your risk factors and how to reduce your likelihood of future infections.