Bladder Infection: Symptoms, Causes, and When to See a Doctor

Medically Reviewed By Angelica Balingit, MD
Was this helpful?
18

A bladder infection is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI) that results from bacteria. Symptoms may include blood in your urine, foul smelling urine, and a burning sensation when urinating. Usually, symptoms go away within a few days of treatment, which involves taking antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Bladder infections, which cause a type of inflammation known as cystitis, are more likely in people who have had a urinary catheter and in females who are sexually active. In fact, experts estimate that 40–60% of women will experience a UTI at some point.

Diabetes and other health conditions that compromise the immune system can increase the risk of developing a UTI.

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

–14 days.

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.

Bladder infection vs. UTI

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.

Bladder infection symptoms

Unseen person's hand holding glass bottle of water in sunlit room
Guillermo de la Torre/Stocksy United

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:

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:

Bladder infection causes

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.

Risk factors for a bladder infection

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:

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.

How doctors diagnose a bladder infection

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.

Treatments and home remedies for a bladder infection 

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.

Potential complications of a bladder 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.

Summary

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.

Was this helpful?
18
Medical Reviewer: Angelica Balingit, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Feb 28
View All Kidneys and the Urinary System Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.