Bladder infections, urinary tract infections (UTIs) and cystitis are all names used to refer to the same condition, which affect one in four women. Generally, bladder infections are not serious if they are treated right away.
If left untreated, however, they can turn into kidney infections which can lead to kidney damage. Pregnant women are particularly at increased risk from week six through 24.
Why Bladder Infections Affect Women?
Doctors surmise that women are more prone to UTIs than men because of their relatively short urethra, the tube through which urine drains from the body. Because this tube is so short, bacteria have an easier time finding the bladder.
Also, the opening to the urethra is close to the vagina and the anus, which makes it easy for bacteria from those areas to get into the urinary tract.
In pregnancy, “The uterus sits directly on top of the bladder. As the uterus grows, its increased weight can block the drainage of urine form the bladder.” (American Pregnancy Association) Bacteria builds up in the undrained urine and develops into an infection.
Bladder Infection Symptoms in Women
Not everyone experiences symptoms of a urinary tract infection, but symptoms may include:
• Strong, persistent urge to urinate
• A burning sensation when urinating
• Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
• Urine that appears cloudy
• Urine that appears pink or cola colored (blood in the urine)
• Urine that smells strongly of ammonia (more so than usual)
• Pelvic pain (MayoClinic)
There are three types of urinary tract infection depending on which part of the urinary tract is infected.
If the urethra is infected (urethritis), then there is usually a burning sensation with urination. If the bladder is affected (cystitis), there could be pelvic pressure, lower abdominal discomfort, frequent, painful urination, and blood in the urine.
If the kidneys are affected, then symptoms may include pain in the upper back and side, high fever, shaking and chills, nausea, vomiting.
Cystitis is usually caused by E. coli, which is commonly found in the gastrointestinal tract and finds its way to the urethra because of the close proximity of the anus.
Urethritis can also be caused by spreading of gastrointestinal bacteria from the anus to the urethra, but sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia are also possible causes because of the close proximity of the vagina to the urethra.
Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention
Thankfully, a simple urinalysis and urine culture is all that’s needed to confirm and diagnose a bladder infection or UTI, though recurrent infections may require the use of ultrasound or CT scans or intravenous urinary pyelogram to create an image of the structures of the urinary tract. A scope may also be used so the doctor can visually examine the urethra and bladder (cystoscopy).
Treatment usually involves a course of antibiotics and symptoms will clear within a few days. It is important to continue taking the antibiotics even after symptoms go away so that all of the bacteria is killed.
Although it hasn’t been medically proven, many patients report that drinking unsweetened cranberry juice helps prevent urinary tract infections. Do not drink cranberry juice if you’re already taking Warfarin, though.
Below are a list of tips for preventing UTIs (from American Pregnancy Association):
• Drink 6-8 glasses of water each day and unsweetened cranberry juice regularly
• Eliminate refined foods, fruit juices, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar
• Take vitamin C (250 to 500 mg), beta-carotene (25,000 to 50,000IU per day) and zinc (30-50 mg per day) to help fight infection
• Develop a habit of urinating as soon as the need is felt and empty your bladder completely
• Urinate before and after intercourse
• Avoid intercourse while you are being treated for a UTI
• After urinating, blot dry (do not rub), and keep your genital area clean. Wipe from front to back
• Avoid using strong soaps, douches, antiseptic creams, feminine hygiene sprays, and powders
• Change underwear and pantyhose every day
• Avoid wearing tight-fitting pants
• Wear all cotton or cotton-crotch underwear and pantyhose
• Avoid soaking in the bathtub for more than 30 minutes or more than two times a day
Understanding Bladder Infections – the Basics. WebMD. Web. Sept 22, 2011. http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/understanding-bladder-infections-basic-information
Urinary Tract Infection. MayoClinic. Web. Sept 22, 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/urinary-tract-infection/DS00286/DSECTION=symptoms
Urinary Tract Infection During Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association. Web. Sept 22, 2011. http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancycomplications/utiduringpreg.html
Reviewed September 23, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith