A bladder infection is most often caused by a bacterial infection within the bladder. For people with weakened immune systems, yeast can cause bladder infections as well.

Bacterial infections can cause the bladder to inflame, which is a condition known as cystitis.

Most cases of bladder infections are acute, meaning they occur suddenly. Other cases may be chronic, meaning they recur over the long term. Early treatment is key to preventing the spread of the infection.

A bladder infection is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI). This refers to an infection anywhere in the urinary tract, such as the:

The upper urinary tract includes the kidneys and ureters. The kidneys filter blood to remove waste, producing urine. The ureters carry the urine to the lower tract.

The lower tract includes the bladder and urethra. Your bladder acts as a reservoir, storing urine until you’re ready to release it. Urine is passed out of the body through the urethra.

UTIs occur more often in the lower tract as it’s easier for bacteria to enter.

Map of Female and Male Urinary TractShare on Pinterest
Anatomy of the urinary tract for males and females.

Note

References to “male” and “female” or “men” and “women” in this article refer to sex assigned at birth, not gender.

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Bacteria that enter through the urethra and move into the bladder can cause infections. Typically, the body removes the bacteria by flushing them out during urination.

Bacteria can sometimes attach to the walls of your bladder and multiply quickly. This overwhelms the body’s ability to destroy them, resulting in a bladder infection.

Most bladder infections are caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli). This type of bacteria is naturally present in the large intestines.

An infection can occur when bacteria from your stool get on your skin and enter your urethra. In women, the urethra is short and the outside opening is not far from the anus, so bacteria can easily move from one body system to another.

The symptoms of a bladder infection vary depending on the severity. You’ll immediately notice changes during urination. Some of the most common symptoms include:

When bladder infections spread, they can also cause mid-back pain. This pain is associated with an infection in the kidneys. Unlike muscular back pain, this pain will be persistent regardless of your position or activity.

A kidney infection will often cause:

  • fever
  • chills
  • nausea
  • vomiting

You’ll typically feel quite ill. Kidney infections are more serious than bladder infections and require urgent medical attention.

Anyone can get bladder infections, but there are different risks for women and men.

Bladder infections in women

Women are more prone to getting bladder infections than men. About 40 percent of women in the United States develop a urinary tract infection at some point in their life.

This is because women have shorter urethras, making the path to the bladder easier for bacteria to reach. Women’s urethras are also located closer to the rectum than men’s urethras. This means there is a shorter distance for bacteria to travel.

During pregnancy, changes in the urinary tract increase the risk of an infection. Changes in the immune system also increase risk during pregnancy.

Some forms of birth control, like diaphragms and spermicides, may increase your risk of urinary tract infections.

Women are also more prone to recurring infections. About 25 percent of women will experience a second infection within 6 months of their first infection.

Bladder infections in men

As men age, the prostate can enlarge. This can cause blockages to the flow of urine and increase the likelihood of developing a UTI. UTIs tend to increase in men as they age.

Bladder infections are not very common in men less than 65 years old. However, younger men who are uncircumcised or have anal sex may be at greater risk.

Other risk factors

Other factors can increase the risk of bladder infections for both men and women. These include:

A doctor can diagnose your bladder infection by performing a urinalysis. This is a test performed on a sample of urine to check for the presence of:

Your doctor may also perform a urine culture, which is a test to determine the type of bacteria in the urine causing the infection.

Once they know the type of bacteria, they will test it for antibiotic sensitivity to determine which antibiotic will best treat the infection.

You can connect with a primary care doctor or a urologist in your area using the Healthline FindCare tool.

Bladder infections are treated with prescription medications to kill the bacteria, usually antibiotics, and medications that relieve pain and burning.

Medication

Oral antibiotics are used to kill the bacteria that are causing the bladder infection.

If you’re experiencing pain and burning sensations, your doctor may also prescribe medication to relieve those symptoms.

The most common medication for relieving the pain and burning associated with bladder infections is called phenazopyridine (Pyridium).

Home treatment

In addition to antibiotics, there are steps you can take at home to help treat your bladder infection:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids can help flush the bacteria out of your bladder. Water is best because it’s free of caffeine and artificial sweeteners, which are known bladder irritants.
  • Concentrated cranberry solutions, juices, and extracts may prevent infection but should not be solely relied upon to treat an active infection. In a 2017 study, cranberry juice did lower the number of bacteria in the bladder during an infection, but it didn’t cure the infection completely.
  • D-mannose is a natural sugar that comes from fruits like cranberries or blueberries, available as a powder or capsules. A 2014 study indicated that D-mannose can prevent UTIs at similar rates to antibiotics.
  • Applying estrogen cream can help people during or after menopause treat and prevent UTIs. Estrogen helps good bacteria present in the vagina guard against infectious bacteria.

Certain lifestyle changes may reduce your chances of getting a bladder infection.

If you’ve been experiencing recurrent bladder infections, your doctor may recommend prophylactic treatment. This consists of antibiotics taken in small daily doses to prevent or manage future bladder infections.

Lifestyle changes

Some of the following lifestyle changes may help reduce or eliminate the occurrence of bladder infections:

  • drinking six to eight glasses of water per day, but consult with your doctor about the correct amount of fluid based on your overall health
  • drinking cranberry juice daily
  • urinating as soon as you feel the need
  • wiping from front to back after urinating if you’re female
  • not using douches, hygiene sprays, scented soaps, or powders
  • taking showers instead of baths
  • wearing cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes
  • not using a diaphragm or spermicide and changing to an alternate form of birth control
  • using nonspermicidal lubricated condoms
  • urinating before and after sexual activity

Preventive antibiotic treatment

If you’re experiencing recurrent bladder infections, your doctor may give you a prescription for daily antibiotics to prevent infections or to take when you feel the symptoms of a bladder infection.

They may also have you take a single dose of an antibiotic after sexual activity.

Most bladder infections subside within 48 hours of taking the appropriate antibiotic. It’s important to finish all antibiotics prescribed, even if you’re feeling better.

Some bladder infections can worsen and spread to the kidneys due to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, delayed or inadequate treatment, or other health issues.

If you have recurrent UTIs, it’s important to contact your doctor. You may need certain tests to make sure your urinary system is otherwise healthy.

If you don’t already have a primary care physician, you can browse doctors in your area through the Healthline FindCare tool.

Chronic bladder infections require a combination of treatment and preventive measures. Long-term daily antibiotics may be necessary in some cases.

Being proactive about bladder infections can help reduce their occurrence as well as the pain and possible complications that accompany them.

The earlier you seek treatment, the less likely it is that the infection will spread, and the sooner you’ll feel better.