Bladder infections, also called acute cystitis, are bacterial infections of the urinary bladder. These painful illnesses are the most common female infection according to Dr. Andrew Siegel — so common that 50 percent of females will have one in their lifetime.
Symptoms of a bladder infection include:
- burning during urination
- frequent urination
- an urgency to urinate
- blood in the urine
- only being able to urinate in very small volumes
- a leaking bladder
- pain in the lower back, pelvis, and abdominal areas
There are two peak times when women tend to experience bladder infections — in their young adult years (18-24) and after menopause, Siegel said.
“As woman goes through menopause, the ovaries stop manufacturing estrogen. In the environment of estrogen deficiency, the vagina becomes less acidic which allows bacteria such as e-coli to replace healthy lactobacilli that typically populate the vaginal area.”
A lack of estrogen can also cause pelvic relaxation — or a “dropped bladder” — which can cause bladder weakness, a leaking bladder, and the failure to completely empty the bladder when you urinate. Further, if you’re suffering from a leaking bladder, you’re more likely to use urinary incontinence pads that become damp, develop bacteria and can then promote infection.
Further, the onset of menopause means that the vaginal area tissues lose suppleness, atrophy, and become thin. Those changes can also promote infections, according to Dr. Siegel.
There are several risk factors that can make bladder infections more likely:
- A short urethra: The female urethra is less than one inch long, so it doesn’t take much to get bacteria from the outside world into the urinary bladder, which is usually sterile.
- Proximity of your urethra to your vagina and anus: Your vaginal and anal area are colonized with bacteria, and are very close to your urethra. That’s a lot of germs with easy access to your short urethra!
- Sexual activity: The movements and activities associated with sex can aid the travel of bacteria into the urethra causing infection.
- The use of spermicidal jellies: Using spermicidal jellies or a diaphragm during intercourse also aid the travel of bacteria from the vaginal and anal areas into the urethra.
It’s important to understand how bacteria builds and travels to the urethra and into the bladder to prevent recurrent cystitis — repeated bladder infections — which can cause permanent damage, bladder weakness, and a leaking bladder. Repeated bladder infections can become extremely inconvenient and debilitating. If you suspect you’re suffering from a bladder infection, see your doctor!
Have you suffered from bladder infections? What tips do you have to help others avoid them?