Bladder Infections – The Facts

What causes a bladder infection?

Bladder infection, or cystitis, occurs when bacteria enter the bladder through the urethra, multiplying and causing inflammation in the bladder. The commonest bacteria causing cystitis is E.Coli which is found in the gastrointestinal tract. Women suffer from cystitis more often than men simply because of their anatomy – their shorter urethras provide a shorter passage for bacteria to gain entry into the bladder.

Who is most at risk?

It is known that sexually active women tend to have more frequent cystitis than women who are not sexually active. After the menopause, a decline in circulating oestrogens causes changes in the urinary tract that make women more susceptible to infection. Urinary tract conditions in men and women such as kidney or bladder stones, or prostate enlargement in men, are risk factors for infection. Medical conditions like diabetes mellitus or other diseases that impair the immune system can increase the risk of cystitis. Babies born with urinary tract abnormalities are at higher risk of infection. People who are unable to pass urine on their own and use a catheter to void run the risk of introducing infection with the use of catheters.

What are the symptoms?
  • Depending on the severity of the infection, a person may experience one or all of the following:
  • A strong, persistent urge to urinate
  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
  • Urine that appears cloudy
  • Urine that appears red, bright pink or cola-colored — a sign of blood in the urine
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Pelvic pain, in women — especially in the center of the pelvis and around the area of the pubic bone
  • Fever
How is a bladder infection diagnosed?

A diagnosis can be made entirely through clinical history and examination –  a patient who has clear signs and symptoms of cystitis often does not need confirmatory tests for a diagnosis. If there is any doubt, a urine analysis will be helpful. In some cases a bacterial culture of a urine sample may be requested for.

How is it treated?

Antibiotics are the first-line treatment for bacterial cystitis. Symptoms usually clear up within a few days of treatment. Your doctor may also prescribe a urinary analgesic or a urine alkaliniser to help give some relief from the discomfort associated with cystitis. It is important to drink lots of water which helps dilute the urine and flush out bacteria. Avoid drinks that irritate the bladder such as coffee, alcohol, and soft drinks containing citrus juices and caffeine, until the infection has cleared. There’s no proven evidence that drinking cranberry juice is effective in treating or preventing cystitis, but there is little harm in it. Be aware of its potential drug interactions with blood-thinning medications like warfarin, medications that affect the liver, and aspirin.

How can cystitis be prevented?

Drink plenty of liquids, especially water. Drinking water helps dilute your urine and ensures that you’ll urinate more frequently — allowing bacteria to be flushed from your urinary tract before an infection can begin. For women, wiping from front to back after urinating and after a bowel movement helps prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra. Women are also advised to empty the bladder soon after intercourse and drink a full glass of water to help flush bacteria. Men and women who suffer from frequent episodes of cystitis may be advised to undergo further tests to investigate for any underlying medical condition that predisposes one to infection.

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