Bladder Infections 101
Uncomfortable pressure above the pubic bone. A frequent urge to urinate. A burning feeling in the bladder or urethra. If you've had a urinary tract infection (UTI) before, you're all too familiar with these painful symptoms. The good news is that most UTIs can be easily treated with antibiotics-and drinking cranberry juice may even help prevent them in the first place. Here, a look at bladder infections, from symptoms to treatments.
Who Gets Bladder Infections?
A bladder infection, also known as cystitis, occurs when bacteria or yeast enter the urinary tract. The bacteria proceed to multiply, and then move through the urethra and into the bladder. Although bladder infections can affect just about anyone--men and children included--women and girls are more prone to them because of the proximity of their urethra to the lower gastrointestinal tract.
What's more, if you're a woman who has gone through menopause, you may be more likely to get a bladder infection than your husband or kids. The reason? Experts believe that estrogen may help tissues fight off infection, yet during menopause, the levels of this female hormone begin to decline.
Several other factors can also predispose women to bladder infections, such as being sexually active or using a diaphragm for birth control. In addition, women with weakened immune systems, a history of kidney stones, diabetes, or those who have had procedures relating to, or around the urinary system, may be at higher risk.
What Are the Symptoms of Bladder Infections?
Symptoms can vary from person to person, but the most common signs of a bladder infection include pelvic discomfort, frequent urge to urinate, or pain in the lower back or abdomen, according to Neeraj Kohli, MD, who serves as Chief of Urogynecology at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School. Less common symptoms include low-grade fever, blood in the urine, or incontinence. As with many bacterial infections, cystitis is usually treated with oral antibiotics and can be cleared up within a few days.
How Are Bladder Infections Diagnosed?
There are a few important things to keep in mind, however. Some female patients are diagnosed over the phone and given antibiotics for what appears to be a bladder infection. Yet the symptoms of a UTI are similar to symptoms of an overactive bladder, bladder cancer, or kidney stones, according to Kohli. For this reason, it's important that women who have "frequent symptoms suggesting a bladder infection" visit their doctor for a more complete examination, including a urine culture, which can pinpoint the strain of bacteria or yeast causing the infection. (UTIs that are caused by yeast, much like a yeast infection, are treated with anti-fungal medications.)
Ignoring a bladder infection can also be dangerous, as the bacteria can travel to the kidneys. A kidney infection is a much more serious condition and requires immediate medical treatment. The symptoms of a kidney infection include bloody urine, flank pain (the area where the ribs meet the spine), high fever, and chills.
How Can Bladder Infections Be Avoided?
There are several steps you can take to prevent a bladder or urinary tract infection. Most experts recommend drinking plenty of liquids, including cranberry juice. Studies have shown that cranberry juice contains certain compounds that can help prevent bacteria from sticking to the urethra and bladder. One study conducted at Harvard Medical School and published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that women who drank cranberry juice were 58 percent less likely to develop a UTI than those who ingested a placebo.
Other preventative measures include urinating after intercourse (this flushes any bacteria away from the urethra area); emptying your bladder completely (leftover urine can leave behind bacteria); wiping from front to back; and taking showers instead of baths (in rare cases, the bath water can introduce bacteria into the urethra.)
If you are experiencing the symptoms of a bladder infection, be sure to consult with your doctor or health care professional.
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