Why do I keep getting bladder infections?
A bladder infection (cystitis) is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI). Bladder infections are common, affecting approximately 5% of women every year. Some individuals are at higher risk of developing bladder infections.
Who is at higher risk?
A variety of factors influence risk for bladder infections and other UTIs, including age, gender, catheter use, and other health conditions.
Post-menopausal women and elderly men are at higher risk of developing UTIs. After menopause, the decline in estrogen causes changes in the urinary tract, making women more vulnerable to UTIs. Elderly men tend to have enlarging prostates, which can make bladder-emptying more difficult. In addition, elderly individuals may have lowered immune responses and may be at risk due to more frequent hospitalizations.
Women are more prone to UTIs than men for several reasons. Women have a shorter urethra than men, allowing bacteria to enter the bladder more easily. Also, sexual intercourse can promote entry of bacteria into a woman’s urethra. The use of diaphragms and spermicidal agents can also introduce bacteria into a woman’s urinary tract.
Individuals who rely on a catheter to urinate have an increased risk of UTIs. This can include patients who have been hospitalized, people who are paralyzed and people with neurological problems that impede their ability to urinate.
Other health conditions
Individuals with diabetes, urinary-tract abnormalities, kidney stones, enlarged prostates and any condition that suppresses the immune system are at higher risk for developing UTIs.
Preventing bladder infections
The following prevention steps can reduce your risks for developing bladder infections and other UTIs:
- Drink more water. Drinking water and other clear, non-caffeinated, fluids helps to dilute urine and to ensure regular emptying of the bladder, so that bacteria get flushed from the urinary system. Cranberry juice was once the go-to home remedy for bladder infections. Research has not substantiated the effectiveness of cranberry juice for preventing UTIs, but cranberry juice is not harmful (except for the calories). Many patients choose to take cranberry supplements in pill form, rather than having the juice.
- Empty your bladder regularly. It may be more convenient to “hold-it”, but frequent emptying of the bladder ensures that bacteria are regularly removed from the urinary system. For the same reason, urinating after intercourse can be helpful.
- Keep your urethra clean. Women should wipe from front to back following urination or a bowel movement to prevent bacteria from entering the vagina and urethra. However, clean doesn’t mean deodorized. Avoid deodorant sprays and other feminine products such as douches in the genital area, which can irritate the urethra.
- Switch birth-control methods. Diaphragms, unlubricated condoms and spermicides can promote bacterial growth.
- Take probiotics. There is some evidence that lactobacillus probiotics may help prevent recurring UTIs. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for assistance in choosing an appropriate probiotic.
- Replace your estrogen. Topical estrogen supplementation has been shown to reduce the risk of recurring UTIs in post-menopausal women. Talk to your doctor about this option.
Symptoms of bladder infections
Symptoms of bladder infections may include sudden-onset of painful, frequent and urgent urination; pain in the lower-back; pain in the lower abdomen; cloudy urine; and foul-smelling urine.
Treatment for bladder infections
Your doctor will diagnose a bladder infection based on your symptoms, your medical history, a physical examination and a urine test.
If it’s concluded that you have a bladder infection, your doctor will most likely prescribe you a short-course of antibiotics. Individuals with recurring bladder infections may be prescribed preventative antibiotics that can be taken ahead of time to avoid bladder infections.