What is Bladder Infection?
Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) are divided into two categories: upper and lower infections. When the area affected by the infection is from the urethra to the bladder, the infection is a lower infection, and when the infection spreads from the bladder to the kidneys, it is called an upper infection.
Normally, the body houses bacteria in most body parts; the presence of bacteria is only a problem when said bacteria reproduce to numbers above what is considered healthy. However, some parts of the body are naturally sterile (which means any kind of bacteria in them is abnormal), and the bladder is one of these sterile parts. In the bladder, the presence of bacteria, even in small quantities, is a sign of infection, also known as cystitis.
What are the Causes of Bladder Infection?
E. Coli is by far the most common of all the possible bacteria behind a bladder infection. E. Coli is a bacteria found normally in the intestinal tract, without it being a pathogen, however, it must never be found in the urinary tract. Although E.Coli is the most common bacteria, it is not the only one that causes cystitis; other bacteria that cause cystitis include chlamydia and mycoplasma, which are sexually transmitted. Even more rarely, the fungus may cause cystitis too; the most common cause for bladder infection among the fungus is Candida infection. Candida is a fungus normally found in the skin, but when an individual’s immune systems I weak, the Candida might affect skin, vagina, mouth, nails, and of course, urinary tracts.
Having analyzed the pathogens, the infection itself occurs when these bacteria (or fungus) spread from the urethra moving upwards to the bladder. The pathogens reach the urethra because of poor hygiene, sexual relationships, a blockage of urine, etc. These infections might be a sign of other more serious conditions such as a weak immune system or other diseases.
A bladder infection is a condition that affects a significant number of the world’s population and is especially prevalent among females. Its symptoms include mild to severe pain in the lower portion of the abdomen and back, pain and difficulty in urination, and feeling the need to urinate (sometimes unnecessarily). These infections affect a large number of Americans. In fact, it is the second most prevalent internal body infection and amounts to some eight million trips to the physician annually in the US alone. Most bladder infections, if caught at the start, can be easily treated and cured, but if allowed to fester, they can create serious health problems.
Other Main Causes of Bladder Infection
1. The Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): The bladder is a part of the urinary tract (the part of our body responsible for the removal of urine). Urine, if allowed to remain in the bladder for long, can lead to the accumulation of bacteria which is the root cause of bladder infections. These infections are also known as infections of the lower urinary tract and should be dealt with it as soon as the first symptoms are noticed. If the infection is allowed to grow unchecked because of any kind of hesitation, it can spread to other parts of the urinary tract, such as the kidneys which can lead to a critical situation.
2. E-coli Bacteria: 90% of the bladder infections that have been diagnosed are attributed to E. coli. This bacterial infection can be caused by improper hygiene practice that allows the E. coli to get into the urinary tract and infect it. Females are much more likely to be affected by this germ because of their anatomy which gives the bacteria better access to the bowels.
3. Bowel: The bowel houses the E. coli bacteria under normal circumstances. When the bacteria are allowed to escape the rectum and enter the urinary tract, this leads to infection. This is especially true in the case of females because of their shorter tract that makes it much easier for E. coli to reach the bladder and start spreading the infection. Therefore, the bowel is at the center of the propagation of the infection.
4. Kidney Stones: Kidney stones, besides being painful in their own right, have the additional consequence of blocking the flow of urine by obstructing the urinary tract. This causes inflammation in the affected region and the accumulation of urine gives the bacteria time to start an infection in the inflamed area.
5. Sexual Intercourse: Intercourse can ease the entry of bacteria into the urethra if it is present in the vaginal region. It is therefore recommended for both partners to practice safe sex and wash up thoroughly afterward.
6. Birth Control: For women, birth control medication may lead to irritation in the urethral region, which makes the area more vulnerable to bacterial infection. Birth control devices should be avoided in women having bladder or urinary tract infections till the infection is cleared.
7. Diabetes: Elevated sugar levels among diabetic individuals surfaces as extra sugar in the urine. This makes the urine an ideal environment for the bacteria to thrive and infect parts of the urinary tract including the bladder.
8. Catheters: The use of catheters for extended periods of time is a leading cause of bacterial infection in the bladder. The reason is twofold: Firstly, catheters provide a bypass route for the urine to flow out of the body, which prevents the urethra from getting washed and therefore prevents the bacteria present in the urethra from being flushed out of the bladder. Secondly, the catheter tubes themselves become nurseries for the bacteria to grow and reenter the bladder. That’s why a catheter should only be used for as small a duration as possible.
9. Waiting to Urinate: Holding urine in for a long time can cause serious problems with the bladder’s ability to completely empty itself in the long run. The residual urine allows some bacteria to remain, even after urination. In some cases, the bacteria accumulate in large enough quantities enough for the condition to become a bladder infection.
10. Genetic: Apparently, a bladder infection may have a genetic link. Patients with a family history of the condition may suffer from chronic episodes as well, and the only solutions are preventative – good hygiene. However, research is being conducted to single out the strain responsible and work out a more effective solution.
Besides the usual causes of bladder problems, men (Especially aging men) have to worry about one extra thing: An enlarged prostate gland can be a prime culprit behind a blockage in the urinary tract that doesn’t allow the urine to leave the system completely and makes it the bladder, among other parts, quite vulnerable to bacterial infection.
With so many diverse causes behind bladder infections, it is no wonder that it is one of the most frequently reported bodily infection in the world. Prevention is better that cure*, especially in bladder infection as the symptoms can be quite painful if the problem does occur. For this purpose, good hygiene is essential to keep infection at bay. If symptoms manifest, patients should schedule an appointment to consult with their doctor.
What are the Symptoms of Bladder Infection?
When the infection is merely in the bladder and urethra (lower infection), the symptoms include:
- Abnormal looking urine
- Increased frequency of urination
- Pain while urinating
- Unusual odor on the urine
- Pain in the abdominal area
- Back pain
However, if the infection has spread from the bladder to the kidneys (upper infection), the symptoms may include the following too:
A bladder infection is an affliction of the urinary tract that is one of the most commonly reported categories of infections – in fact, over 8 million people visit their doctors because of a urinary tract infection. There are specific telltale signs of identifying a bladder infection at the very start, which should be recognized and understood by all adults. People over the age of 30 should pay extra attention to these symptoms because the body is more prone to developing a bladder infection past this age. If these symptoms are recognized in due time, the infection can be treated and neutralized before it spreads to the kidneys – which can disrupt normal kidney function and cause serious issues. The symptoms for men and women are much the same:
1. In Men:
Although men experience cystitis (bladder infection) much less than women, the following symptoms should be taken seriously when they occur:
- Abnormally Frequent Urination: If you suddenly yourself in need of making trips to the bathroom more frequently than usual without any change in medication, diet or climate, there is a chance that you could be developing a bladder infection.
- Strong Need to Urinate: Sometimes, you may feel like you have to rush to the restroom to let it out but when you try to urinate, very little comes out. This should be taken as a serious sign that a bladder infection is developing in your urinary tract.
- Burning Pain While Urinating: If you experience a sharp, burning pain when urinating (sometime even after you’re done), you should consult your physician at once as this is a textbook symptom of urinary tract infections.
- Urine is Clouded and Gives a Strong Smell: This is a sign that your bladder infection is past its initial stage and that it requires immediate treatment.
- Urine Contains Blood: This symptom should be taken as a sign that the bladder infection has become quite serious and if left untreated for slightly longer, will reach other parts of the urinary tract. If you find blood in your urine, you must contact your doctor at once.
2. In Women:
Women are much more prone to developing cystitis than men; 50% of the female population develops cystitis. The chief reason is the female anatomy: a shorter urethra with proximity to the vagina and anus (both sources of E. coli bacteria) makes the female bladder significantly more vulnerable to urinary tract infections. The symptoms for women are the same as those for men, with the addition of the following:
- A stinging sensation on the lips of the vagina
- Blood on the tissue with which it is wiped after urination.
Because there is a greater chance for urinary tract infection occurrence for the reasons explained above, women should be even more conscious of these symptoms than men, and they should take even the slightest hint as a sign to get themselves checked by their doctor.
What are the Treatments for Bladder Infection?
A bladder infection can be treated in different ways; most of which are very simple. Here are the treatment methods:
- Antibiotics: The use of antibiotics is the primary treatment against bladder infections. If the infection is caught early when it is still limited to the bladder alone, minimal medication is required – sometimes as little as 3 days, with improvement being felt on the very first day of treatment. However, if the infection is allowed to spread to other parts of the urinary tract, such as the kidneys, the antibiotics may become more complex and the treatment more prolonged. Bladder infection medication for old people and patients of existing medical conditions such as HIV or diabetes may require a fortnight of antibiotic medication.
- Consumption of Fluids: Drinking good fluids such as water or cranberry juice will encourage your bladder to empty itself more, which will remove* bacteria from it.
- Over The Counter Antiseptics: These drugs help to ease the symptoms of the infection as you wait for the primary antibiotic medication to kick in. You should only use such supplementary medication with the prior approval of the doctor who is treating your condition.
- Warming Pads: If your bladder infection causes a dull pain in your lower abdomen or back, mildly heated warming pads can be used to ease the pain while you undergo treatment.
How To Prevent Bladder Infection?
As they say, prevention is always better than cure*, so here are ways by which you can stop the infection before it even begins:
- Drink Lots of Water: This cannot be stressed enough. If your body gets its proper fill of water daily, it will be able to wash the urinary tract regularly and prevent any bacteria from building up in the bladder or anywhere else.
- Practice Good Hygiene: This is especially important for women since they are more vulnerable to getting infected by bacteria from their anus or vagina. After urination, always wipe front to back so that germs do not enter the vagina from the anus. Men should also keep their genital clean (rinse them daily with water or soap) to keep the outside free from infection spreading germs.
- Have Regular Checkups: Being proactive means you have to be vigilant, especially if you have had a history of chronic infection. Consult with your doctor regularly to make sure that there is no infection in your urine.
Urinary tract infections, like all other infections, can only pose a threat if allowed to grow unchecked. The best approach is to be proactive and prevent them from occurring. However, if they do occur, you should not feel any hesitation or shame when consulting with your doctor. Remember, you will eventually have to visit the doctor to get it treated, better to do it before it gets worse.
Who Can Get Bladder Infection?
Everyone can get a UTI, however, women are much more likely to get a bladder infection. One reason is that the bacteria travels through the urethra; women have a much shorter urethra (barely one inch and a half) while a men’s passes through the penis, making it larger in addition to being a difficult place from which to reach the bladder. Besides this, women’s urethras are closer to the vagina and anus, both allowing easy entry for bacteria.
Men have an increased risk to get a UTI as they grow old. This has been related to the weaker immune system and the larger prostate that might interfere with the normal function of the bladder. Women who have frequent sexual relationships also have an increased risk of UTI.
Other risks that increase* the probabilities of having a bladder infection in both sexes are being a diabetic (type 1 or 2), weakened the immune system, being pregnant, being over 65 years of age.
UTI might affect children too, but those cases are very rare.
How To Diagnose Bladder Infection?
When the patients see the symptoms above, they should consult with their doctor. The doctor will diagnose the infection through a urinalysis or a urine culture.
A urinalysis measures nitrite, sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphate, and blood cells (in case there is blood in the urine). These arrays of tests show the doctor the condition of the urinary tract and point to the possible bacteria that might be infecting it.
A urine culture, on the other hand, is a culture in which the bacteria are grown artificially to observe with precision which bacteria are found, in which quantity and (if a sensitivity test is performed) which medicaments are the best to treat* it.
Medical treatments prescribed to UTI patients vary from doctor to doctor and case to case. Some of the medications used for bladder infections are:
- Drink cranberry juice everyday
- Drink a lot of water (six to eight ounces per day)
- If you want to urinate, do so as soon as possible
- Shower daily, and choose showering over bathing
- Use clean underwear made out of natural fibers such as cotton
- Wipe from the front to the back if you’re female (to avoid passing bacteria from the rectum to the urethra and vagina)
It is very difficult for women to avoid getting UTI; most women will suffer from a UTI at least once at some point of their lives. Men, however, can avoid UTI more easily, but f they do suffer from one, they should consult their doctor and conduct the proper tests to make sure they aren’t suffering from other problems, especially an enlarged prostate.
When there are symptoms of UTI, patients should immediately go to a doctor so s/he can make a diagnosis and prescribe the right medication. UTI are usually not serious if treated immediately, but the more time the infection stays untreated, the more likely it is to result in permanent damage. Upper infections (those that spread to the kidneys) are much more serious and if they’re not treated soon the damage to the kidneys might be irreversible.