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How Common Are Bladder Infections?

Author: Jerry Balentine, DO, FACEP
Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Bladder infections are a common reason for patients to visit their doctor. Between 8-10 million visits a year are attributed to infections in the urinary system, with most due to bladder infections. The urinary tract is compromised of the kidneys, ureters (connecting the kidneys to the bladder), the bladder (where urine is stored), and the urethra. Bladder infections (also known as cystitis) are the most common infections of the urinary tract, and the term UTI (urinary tract infection) is sometimes used interchangeably with bladder infection. The symptoms of a bladder infection usually include pain upon urination, frequent urination, and the feeling that you need to urinate even if your bladder is not full.

Bladder infections are more common in women than men and can occur at any age. Bladder infections are especially worrisome in infants (as the infection can spread into the bloodstream), the elderly, and people with other medical conditions (especially those that suppress your immune system such as diabetes). If the bladder infection spreads, it can affect the kidneys (pyelonephritis) or even get into the bloodstream.

In most cases, bladder infections need to be treated with antibiotics. The choice of antibiotics is very important. Rather than using the "newest" medication, your physician should know which bacteria are usually causing the infection and which antibacterial drug they respond to. These are usually very basic antibiotics (except under special circumstances). Overusing the newest medications for these simple infections causes a greater chance of the bacteria developing resistance to the antibiotic (inability of this medication to be effective in the future). Drinking plenty of fluids is recommended as well. Should the symptoms be severe, additional medications can be prescribed for the pain.

It is also important to distinguish the symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease from an infection of the urinary tract, as the treatment for these conditions can be dramatically different. If your health-care provider does not ask, make sure to mention any rash, genital discharge, or other unusual symptoms. Additional testing for STDs can then be carried out.

A simple bladder infection usually only requires a urine test in the doctor's office (to check for signs of infection) followed by a sample being sent to the laboratory to see if bacteria will grow. This step also assures that the bacteria found in your urine are sensitive to the chosen antibiotic (meaning that the antibiotic can kill the bacteria). This usually takes 48 hours for confirmation while treatment is in progress.

Should bladder infections recur frequently, it might be time for more advanced testing to find the reason for these frequent infections. A few special circumstances are worth noting. If you are pregnant and are concerned that you might have a bladder infection, you should contact your doctor immediately. Older men with UTIs need to have their prostate evaluated, and infants with UTIs need to be evaluated quickly as well.

In general, the symptoms of a bladder infection should disappear within days of starting treatment. Always finish the full course of treatment to avoid a recurrence.

References:

Marx, John A., Hockberger, Robert S., Walls, Ron M. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice.

Tintinalli, Judith E., Kelen, Gabor D., Stapczynski, J. Stephan, Ma, O. John, and Cline, David M., The American College of Emergency Physicians. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 6 Edition.


Last Editorial Review: 9/3/2009







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