Updated January 2014

Definition

Bladder infections occur when bacteria travel into the bladder which is normally sterile.  They are also called urinary tract infections (UTIs) or cystitis.

Causes

Bladder infections occur when bacteria that normally live in the intestines and on the genitals get into the urethra (the tube that passes urine out of the body) and travel up into the bladder.  A bladder infection can become quite painful.  It can also become quite serious if the bacteria are able to travel further up to the kidneys.  In pregnancy, bladder infections are more likely to travel to the kidneys and can cause serious damage if not treated.

Bladder infections are very common in women.  Women get them more often than men because the urethra is shorter in women.  Men may get them if there is a blockage of the urethra caused by a kidney stone or an enlarged prostate gland.

Signs and Symptoms

The typical symptoms of a bladder infection include:

  • pain or burning with urination (peeing)
  • feeling the need to urinate (pee) but only a small amount comes out
  • urinating a lot more often than usual
  • an urgent need to urinate
  • pain in the lower abdomen (tummy)

Additional more serious symptoms may include:

  • blood in the urine
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • fever or chills
  • low back pain or pain on the sides of the abdomen (tummy)
  • generally feeling unwell

Diagnosis and Tests

Usually your health care provider will examine you and check your urine sample for white blood cells and other indicators of infection.  They may also send a sample of your urine to the laboratory for analysis.  The symptoms of a bladder infection can be similar to a sexually transmitted infection. It is important to discuss appropriate STI testing with your healthcare provider.

Complications

In some cases if a persistent bladder infection is not treated, it can get worse and eventually lead to a kidney infection.  Although most kidney infections do not cause permanent damage, delaying treatment can lead to complications.

Treatment

If you think you have a bladder infection, see your health care provider as soon as possible. Once antibiotics are started your symptoms should resolve in a day or two.  It is still important to finish all of the treatment given to you even if you feel better.  It is also helpful to drink lots of water but this should not replace treatment.

Prevention/Self-care Tips

  • Urinate before and after sexual intercourse
  • Drink plenty of water daily as this may help to flush out bacteria
  • After using the toilet women should wipe from the front to back
  • Avoid using spermicidal products
  • Women who have frequent bladder infections should speak to their healthcare provider about:
    • Antibiotics daily or just after sex for prevention
    • A vaginal estrogen cream for post menopausal women

Information for Sexual Partners

Bladder infections are not passed from person to person.  Treatment is not needed for your sexual partner.

More Information

Call the AIDS and Sexual Health InfoLine at 416-392-2437

SAFER SEX: To reduce your risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI),
use a condom every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex